Briefing :: Kyrgyzstan Before the Elections

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BRIEFING


COMMISSION ON 
SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE: 
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION

KYRGYZSTAN BEFORE THE ELECTIONS

WITNESSES:
HER EXCELLENCY ZAMIRA SYDYKOVA,
AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES,
THE REPUBLIC OF KYRGYZSTAN

ERICA MARAT,
ANALYST,
THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION

LAURA JEWETT,
REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR EURASIA,
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE

THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:00 P.M. TO 2:57 P.M. IN ROOM 1539 LONGWORTH HOUSE 
OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [JANICE HELWIG, POLICY ADVISOR, CSCE], 
MODERATING 

THURSDAY, JUNE 18, 2009



JANICE HELWIG:  Okay, I think we will go ahead and get started.  Welcome 
everyone.  I would like to welcome you on behalf of the Helsinki Commission.  
Our co-chairman, Congressman Hastings, hopes to make it shortly.  There are a 
lot of votes on the floor, so he is not able to make it right now.  I am going 
to start by reading a statement on his behalf and then I will introduce our 
panelists and we let each give their statement.  I will ask a few questions and 
then we are also going to open it to the floor for questions.  So please think 
of what you might like to ask as we go along.

So welcome to this briefing on Kyrgyzstan before next month’s presidential 
elections.  The Helsinki Commission saw this as an opportune moment to look at 
an important country that does not always get the attention it deserves.  In 
the 1990s, Kyrgyzstan was among the most democratically advanced former Soviet 
republics.  But in the early part of this decade, differences between President 
Akayev and the opposition increasingly took the form of street protests.  
Matters came to a head in 2005 with the Tulip Revolution, which resulted in the 
ouster of President Akayev and his replacement by President Bakiev.  

Initially, there were high hopes for democratic reform.  But in the last two 
years, President Bakiev has largely managed to quash the street politics, which 
brought him to power and to consolidate his own position.  He created a 
political party that has effectively become the ruling party.  And the OSCE 
described the 2007 parliamentary elections as quote, “a missed opportunity, 
falling short of public expectations for the further consolidation of the 
democratic election process,” close quote.  

Pre-term presidential elections will be held on July 23rd.  Even now however, 
there is cause for concern both about the general state of democracy in 
Kyrgyzstan and about the conduct of the upcoming elections.  Kyrgyzstan’s media 
used to be among the freest in the region, but a tax on journalists have 
multiplied alarmingly.  A law passed last August restricts the right to 
demonstrate despite a court ruling that the bill was unconstitutional.  In 
January, President Bakiev signed a law on religion, which complicates 
registration, bans proselytizing and curtails the dissemination of religious 
material.  A draft NGO law would impose strict registration requirements and 
prohibit political activities, which could include such things as criticizing 
the government or training election observers.

Various opposition figures have disappeared from the political scene, either 
killed in a car accident, jailed for alleged criminal acts or embarrassed by 
sex videos.  The election code was amended in January, but key OSCE 
recommendations were not taken onboard and Bishkek has placed restrictions on 
the number of OSCE observers.  I believe as an update to that that they have 
actually now dropped that.  But we will ask that question later on.

Obviously, there are grounds for concern about Kyrgyzstan’s general direction.  
I hope our panelists will give us a reason to be more optimistic about the 
prospects for democracy in Kyrgyzstan, a country that Congressman Hastings has 
visited several times.  

I would like to introduce our panelists today.  We are honored to have 
Ambassador Zamira Sydykova with us today.  Ambassador Sydykova founded her 
country’s first independent newspaper, Res Publica, in 1992, and is editor in 
chief, led the struggle for free press and an open society in Kyrgyzstan.  Her 
unrelenting criticism of corruption and authoritarian tendencies in the 
country’s ruling elite resulted in her imprisonment and in repeated attempts to 
close her newspaper.  In the wake of the democratic uprising in Kyrgyzstan in 
March 2005, Ambassador Sydykova was appointed ambassador extraordinary and 
plenipotentiary to the U.S. and Canada.

We also are pleased to have with us Dr. Laura Jewett, who is the regional 
director for Eurasia at the National Democratic Institute.  Dr. Jewett has 
traveled extensively in Eurasia meeting with political, civic and government 
leaders to assess political conditions and design democracy-assistance 
programs.  She earned her Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University 
and has served in Washington on the staffs of U.S. Representative Bill 
Ratchford and U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, both of Connecticut.  

I would also like to welcome Dr. Erica Marat, who has worked on a variety of 
research projects for the Central Asia Caucus’s Institute and taught an 
intensive course on Central Asian Security.  She holds a Ph.D. in political 
science from the University of Bremen and an M.A. in political sociology from 
Central European University.  Her book, “The Military and the State in Central 
Asia: From Red Army to Independence,” will be published in August of this year.

So with that, I will turn it over to you, ambassador.

AMBASSADOR ZAMIRA SYDYKOVA:  Thank you so much.  It is a great honor for me to 
testify a second time before the Helsinki Commission of U.S. Congress.  My 
first appearance here was in 2005, immediately following the Tulip Revolution 
when I described as an eyewitness to this event, the reasons for what had 
occurred in Kyrgyzstan when I was not yet my country’s ambassador to the U.S. 
and Canada.  

Today with the passage of four years, we can draw some definite conclusions.  
And it is wonderful that I have been offered this opportunity a second time.  
First of all, we should take note that the upcoming presidential elections 
scheduled for July 23, 2009, are in some sense earlier and have been called by 
the representatives of several opposition political parties.  But the 
constitutional court of the Kyrgyz Republic has confirmed the date citing the 
new additional of our constitution ratified in 2007.  

Over this year at this time, various political groups have proposed a most 
diverse assortment of constitutional reforms, but have never been able to 
consolidate position.  In just this way, they, again, have not been able to put 
forward the common opposition candidate for the presidential elections.  
Speaking of the past four years in our country, I would like to point out 
regretfully that the leaders of the Tulip Revolution have not given the chance 
to hold any triumphal marches in our land.  First of all, this was because they 
urgently needed to restore economy pillaged by the former President Akayev.  

And second, to fight all the criminal attacks on the new authorities by efforts 
to seize government house. The protest, which struck Kyrgyzstan’s capital, 
Bishkek, have the most diverse set of goals from the satisfaction of the 
political ambitions of those forces just like President Bakiev strove for the 
presidency in 2005 through efforts by the exiled family of President Akayev to 
seek revenge and return home and resume power.  For these purposes, money was 
used to bribe people so that they would come out to demonstrate on the public 
squares.

I am not trying in any way to badmouth the opposition, among whom I count my 
good friends.  But I can say one thing for certain that every one of them was 
during this period been offered positions in the government up to and including 
the job of prime minister.  And in fact, two opposition leaders who were prime 
minister for some time, but subsequently left the job, and I think for 
understandable reasons.  Since it is not an easy task to restore a country’s 
economy and on the other hand, to become unpopular against the backdrop of the 
growing world economic crisis, which has not to some extent affected 
Kyrgyzstan.  

Speaking of the current social political situation in the country, I would like 
to quote the president of OSCE parliamentary assembly, Joao Soares, who 
recently visited Kyrgyzstan.  “Kyrgyzstan is, if you will, the only country in 
the region with a functioning single-party system,” said Mr. Soares.  And this 
is true.  Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is chosen on the basis of elections from the 
Batylists (ph).  Government decisions in the country are made with respect for 
their opinions of civil society.  Representatives of civil organizations openly 
discuss any and all affairs of states and freely offer their conclusions for 
the final making decisions or changing the existing situation.

Naturally, this meets a certain resistance among all the elements of the 
bureaucracy.  But it is a process that requires time and a new generation of 
politicians and novel approaches.  Nevertheless, I repeat once more, an open 
society and free press in Kyrgyzstan are working.  Everything is subject to 
discussion.  I get enormous satisfaction reading Kyrgyz newspapers.  And I have 
to point out that we are also democratic, the only ones in Central Asia to be 
so.  

Just recently a special OSCE representative from Freedom of Media, Miklós 
Haraszti, expressed his concern about attacks on journalists taking place over 
some time ago.  I am also concerned about it.  The cases have not yet finally 
investigated therefore it is hard to give any assessments.  But due to the 
openness of Kyrgyzstan and impacts coming from many local and foreign political 
actors in the region, as well as growing religious extremism, one can easily 
suspect anyone you like.

It is clear we should be consistent in the strength of the local law 
enforcement bodies, which are obliged to solve the crimes.  At the same time, 
it is worth noting that one of the OSCE programs for Kyrgyzstan is targeted on 
capacity building of local law enforcement bodies and to ensure that with 
continued support of OSCE and civil society, my government will soon overcome 
the said problems.  

Touching upon the impending elections, President Bakiev has proposed doubling 
the number of international observers in order to ensure the maximum openness 
and transparency of the process.  He also expressed his hope that OSCE 
observers will provide an objective revelation of the upcoming presidential 
elections that will enable the further strengthening of democratic 
transformations in the country.  

The ODIHR has already opened the mission in Bishkek.  Among six candidates for 
the highest government official office are two of the strongest opposition 
politicians who have managed to summon tens of thousands of supporters to 
public demonstrations.  And I hope the elections promise to be interesting and 
the result transparent.  Thank you for the attention and I open for questions.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you very much.  Dr. Jewett?

LAURA JEWETT:  Thank you.  Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the 
political situation in Kyrgyzstan in the run up to the election.  This election 
provides an opportunity to restore public confidence in the country’s political 
institutions.  If conducted democratically, this election could give citizens a 
meaningful choice among alternative visions for the future of their country.  
We hope the government and people of Kyrgyzstan will seize this chance to 
engage constructively and democratically in an important political occasion.  
We hope the international community for its part will throw its full weight 
into supporting a democratic process.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to be concerned about the conduct of this 
election.  Kyrgyzstan has a history of flawed elections and the rights of free 
speech and assembly have eroded in recent years.  There have already been 
reports of troubling incidents in the lead up to the election.  Politicians, 
journalists and ordinary citizens engaged in political activism have been 
beaten, imprisoned and even killed in recent months, contributing to a climate 
of fear and suspicion.  

Meanwhile, citizens’ confidence in Kyrgyzstan’s election procedures is low.  
Recent NDI focus groups have found that Kyrgyz citizens generally do not have 
faith in the transparency and fairness of elections in Kyrgyzstan.  Some even 
express a reluctance to vote saying they believe the results are predetermined. 
 So barring some extraordinary measures to build confidence, voters may turn 
out to be skeptical of the results when they are announced on July 24th or 
thereabouts.  The likely consequence of skepticism about electoral results is a 
government with a weak mandate, which at best will have difficult responding to 
citizens’ needs and cooperating with international partners, and at worst, will 
resort to harsh, repressive measures at home to impose compliance.

For the coming election, NDI will be supporting domestic and international 
election monitoring efforts.  These efforts are aimed at contributing to the 
transparency of the process.  There are four key areas where the government of 
Kyrgyzstan could take steps now that would improve the electoral environment 
and go a long way toward rebuilding faith in the process.  First, the 
government of Kyrgyzstan should provide conditions for balanced media coverage 
of the entire electoral process.  The government should allow state-owned and 
independent media access to all aspects of the campaign, voting, counting and 
tabulation and post-election procedures without interference or harassment.  
The media should be allowed and encouraged to provide voters with information 
adequate to making an informed choice.  Finally, the government should allow 
the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, one of the few 
independent and unbiased news services, to resume broadcasting in the regions 
on the state radio frequency.

Second, the government should respect and protect the rights of domestic and 
international election observers.  The government and specifically election 
commissions should ensure that domestic and international observers have full 
access to pre-election, election day and post-election processes in individual 
precincts and in higher election commissions without harassment or intimidation 
as required in Kyrgyzstan’s own election code.  The government should ensure 
that the pending draft law on regulating NGOs in Kyrgyzstan is not used to 
impede domestic or international election monitoring efforts.

Third, the government should uphold the right of candidates to campaign.  
Partisan use of administration resources during the campaign period or on 
election day must be prohibited.  The judicial process should not be used as a 
tool to keep opposition politicians from participating in the election.  When 
the official campaign period begins, all candidates must be allowed to campaign 
without interference or harassment and on equal grounds.  Lastly, the 
government should ensure that the current Kyrgyz law restricting the right to 
assembly is not used to limit candidate’s right to campaign and reach out to 
voters.

Fourth, the government should strictly enforce impartial and transparent 
election administration and adjudication.  The government should ensure that 
election commissions are independent and include opposition representation at 
all levels.  The central election commission must ensure that local governments 
verify the accuracy of voter lists and post them at precinct election 
commissions as required by law.  

Before election day, the official electronic vote tabulation system should be 
checked to ensure that it functions properly and accurately.  On election day, 
the government should ensure that official protocols are posted at each 
individual precinct and published in state newspapers to ensure that all voters 
and monitors have access to that information.  Tabulation results should then 
be published by precincts in a timely manner.  Finally, electoral violations or 
complaints should be adjudicated fairly and without administrative interference 
or pressure. 

Progress in these four areas would contribute to public confidence not only in 
electoral procedures, but also in the government and policies that emanate from 
them.  Conversely, little or no progress in these areas would contribute to the 
growing disconnect between the government and the people of Kyrgyzstan.  Right 
now a robust international defense of democratic rights is necessary to help 
prevent the latter outcome.  Some have speculated that uncertainties over the 
fate of Manas Air Base have discouraged U.S. officials from engaging in public 
or private diplomacy in support of a democratic election.  NDI’s view is that 
only a democratically elected government will be a reliable partner to the 
United States over the long run, so support for a genuine process in July may 
be at least as valuable an investment as negotiations over the status of the 
base.

NDI hopes that members of Congress and representatives of the U.S. government 
will take every opportunity to raise these recommendations with their Kyrgyz 
counterparts before the election and to hold the government accountable to its 
OSCE and other international commitments.  Finally, NDI appreciates the efforts 
of Congress to support the people of Kyrgyzstan in establishing a full 
democracy, the rule of law and respect for political and civil rights.  Thank 
you.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.  And now Dr. Marat?

ERICA MARAT:  Thank you very much for inviting me today.  In my testimony, I 
would like to focus on the events that led up to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek 
Bakiev’s decision to schedule early presidential elections.  I will also 
discuss the strategies being pursued by the president and opposition members in 
the run up to the elections.

My goal today is to demonstrate that Kyrgyzstan is ruled by a small group of 
political leaders who are interested in advancing their own business interests. 
 I intend to show that the domestic and foreign policy decisions of the Kyrgyz 
regime have been driven by the desire of self-preservation.  Both the upcoming 
elections and Bakiev’s February decision to expel the U.S. base from Manas 
Airport illustrate this argument. 

I will speak from the perspective of a Central Asian analyst who has been 
monitoring developments in Kyrgyzstan and the wider region for the past few 
years.  I have published three great articles on key developments in Kyrgyzstan 
at the Jamestown Foundation.  Let me assure you from my daily monitoring of 
developments in Kyrgyzstan that it is my firm belief that the July 23rd 
elections will be rigged.  The outcome of the elections is predictable with the 
government following a familiar pattern of suppressing opposition forces and 
freedom of speech.

Approximately one month before the election date, Kyrgyzstan’s incumbent 
leader, Bakiev, has clearly emerged as its most likely winner.  The president 
has managed to strengthen his personal leverage over the parliament, the 
central elections commission, as well as security structures.  The opposition 
forces, in the meantime, have been increasingly fragmented and inconsistent in 
their declared policy goals.  

In February, when Bakiev first announced his decision to stage an early 
presidential election, opposition forces saw a fresh opportunity to challenge 
Bakiev’s regime.  However, as time passed, the opposition’s hopes for ousting 
Bakiev have faded.  A series of violent attacks against opposition members and 
journalists, lawsuits and even political assassinations have exposed Bakiev’s 
view to retain his grip and power.

Today some opposition members appear resigned to Bakiev winning the forthcoming 
elections.  During his four-year run, Bakiev has gradually expanded his powers. 
 The president changed the constitution, carried out early parliamentary 
elections in December 2007, and increased his control over security structures. 
 Before announcing the date of the presidential elections, the parliament, 
composed mostly of pro-presidential party Ak Jol, has altered legislation to 
allow defense forces intervene into internal affairs.  Furthermore, the 
parliament increased government control over mass media and NGOs.

Bakiev’s pervasive control of security structures and state leaders’ 
collaboration with criminal groups is most alarming.  Both tendencies remind 
political opponents that more aggressive actions could be taken against them.  
In the past year, Bakiev appointed his brother, Zhanysh Bakiev, to head the 
national security guard.  His son, Marat Bakiev, leads the national security 
service.  His crony, Adhan Madumarov, leads security council.  His former 
personal guard, Bakytbek Kalyev is a defense minister.  And finally, another 
close friend, Moldomusa Kongantiev, is a minister of internal affairs.

Bakiev’s family members have similarly taken informal control over the 
country’s major resources.  Probably as a result of this, fierce competition 
has emerged between some of the family members of Bakiev.  This interfamily 
competition over country politics and control of businesses creates chaos in 
the country’s political and economic domains.  Relatives of President Bakiev 
are notorious for collaborating with criminal groups to exert influence.  Due 
to this state crime nexus, five members of parliament have been assassinated in 
the past four years.  Their record of other political assassinations now 
extends to over a dozen people, including the former presidential aide, Medet 
Sadyrkulov, whose death in a suspicious car accident in March was the most 
recent example.

Many in Kyrgyzstan believe that Sadyrkulov was killed for his alleged plans to 
support the opposition.  Furthermore, in March, a journalist and member of 
opposition party, Syrgak Abdyldayev, was severely beaten by unknown assailants. 
 Abdyldayev was stabbed over a dozen times and was beaten with stones wrapped 
in towels until his arms, shoulders and ribs were broken.  Local NGO leaders 
believe this incident was a warning sign to other political activists in the 
country.

Bakiev’s desire for reelection as early as this year is explained by his wish 
to secure the continuity of his regime and its low domestic approval rating, 
deteriorating economic conditions and continuous energy shortages in the 
country.  Entering up the election, Bakiev has been using both soft and hard 
powers to sideline his opponents.  Opposition leaders complained that the 
Bakiev regime is habitually disrupting their pre-election activities.  Local 
law enforcement forces control the opposition’s daily activities within rural 
areas.  At recent events organized by the opposition leaders, provocateurs and 
policemen attacked opposition members of parliament.

In the meantime, parliamentarians from pro-regime, Ak Jol Party, were ordered 
to actively work with their constituencies.  Ak Jol’s officials are meeting 
with their fellow villagers bringing food and butchering livestock to persuade 
them to vote for Bakiev.  Yet at the same time, few opposition members are 
prepared to admit that they, too, have failed to produce a coherent message 
that would prove popular among the politically active population.  Instead, 
most opposition leaders try to gather support using tired and old arguments of 
ethnocentric calls for patriotism and promises to establish a clean government.

To date, the united opposition movement, which is comprised of several 
opposition parties, has been unable to demonstrate how and whether it will 
become a real challenge to Bakiev.  Achieving unity at the elections was the 
main goal for the movement.  However, opposition forces are fractured and 
divided.  Two candidates from the opposition movement are running against 
Bakiev.  The first one is leader of Social Democratic Party, Almazbek 
Atambayev, and second, his counterpart from Ak Shumkar Party, Temir Sariev.  

The divide among opposition leaders shows that Kyrgyzstan lacks leaders who 
would genuinely understand the importance of democracy, as well as the 
importance of building a stable state and open society ahead of own ambition.  
To date, neither of the two opposition candidates communicated any policies 
they intend to introduce if elected.  In a desperate search for support, some 
opposition leaders called for mobilizing crowds to protest against the current 
regime on the basis of Kyrgyz ethnic identity.  Their reluctance to formulate 
strategies beyond anti-corruption slogans and ethnocentric ideas demonstrate 
the opposition’s faulty conviction in its own righteousness.

For an ordinary Kyrgyz, calls of opposition movement for mobilization against 
Bakiev are not backed by any realistic suggestion for economic development or 
establishing a just government.  Several feels anti-government demonstrations 
in the past two years diminished the hopes of many for change.  

Aside for Atambayev and Sariev, Bakiev’s other competitors are too politically 
weak to represent any credible challenge to his regime.  Some candidates were 
unable to collect to necessary number of signatures while other candidates 
failed the Kyrgyz language exam.  The presidential elections demonstrate – the 
presidential elections represent a considerable financial challenge for any 
opposition candidate.  The candidates will have to combat Ak Jol Party on all 
levels starting from central election commission to local government to 
election observers.

If free and fair elections were conducted in Kyrgyzstan, it is unlikely that 
Bakiev would secure majority of the vote.  However, it is also doubtful that 
any of the candidates would gain enough votes to win elections outright in the 
first round.  I think Bakiev will try to present favorable results in the first 
round of elections similar to his other Central Asian counterparts who usually 
win elections by more than 90 percent.

In the foreign policy domain, Bakiev strives to maintain a balance between 
promises made to Russia and positive relations with the United States.  
However, any foreign policy decision is determined first and foremost by 
Bakiev’s desire to stay in power.  Bakiev has been conducting politics of 
highest possible returns, searching for the better bargain from the United 
States or Russia or any other international partner.  His February decision to 
expel U.S. base from the Manas Airport before August 18 is such an example.

In conclusion, I would like to say that under Bakiev’s regime, we can expect 
little change toward democracy in Kyrgyzstan.  It will take another round of 
parliamentary and presidential elections and constitutional changes to improve 
Kyrgyzstan’s democratic record.  However, to prevent further deterioration of 
situation in Kyrgyzstan, the United States and international community must 
focus on the following.  

First, the U.S. government and international community must be careful in 
assisting the Kyrgyz government with loans and investments.  Second, the links 
between the regime’s financial interest and policy decisions must be 
investigated further.  Third, regime holds its collaboration with criminal 
groups to advance their own interests must be investigated.  Breaking up the 
state crime links in Kyrgyzstan could potentially enhance the rule of law, free 
political leaders from dependence on criminal actors and discourage people with 
criminal backgrounds from entering politics.  

Thank you very much for your attention.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you very much.  Before we move on to questions, I just 
wanted to ask if any of the panelists would like to respond to what other 
panelists have said.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  I have a question.

MS. HELWIG:  Okay, ambassador.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  I have question to Erica Marat.  How often you are traveling to 
Kyrgyzstan and to meet with different group of our people and for monitoring 
political situation?

MS. MARAT:  Okay.  I travel to Kyrgyzstan two or three times a year for about 
two weeks to a month each time.  And I do meet with different experts from the 
government, from civil society, journalists.

MS. HELWIG:  Okay, well, I will start off with a couple of first questions 
before we open it up to the audience for questions.  My first question would be 
for Ambassador Sydykova.  There have been several criticisms, including today, 
of recent elections in Kyrgyzstan.  One of the most important issues that was 
criticized was transparency, which, as was said, of course, affects the trust 
of the voters in the process.  In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the OSCE 
said there were significant discrepancies between the preliminary results and 
the final results.  The release of the final results was delayed and the 
results broken down by polling station were never released.  This was 
particularly disturbing as international observers reported that the most 
problems came during the counting process, so not really seeing the counts 
broken down by polling station made it impossible to check the preliminary 
counts against the final report.

Will this problem be corrected this year for the presidential elections?  And 
if so, how?

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  I mentioned here that President Bakiev invited double numbers 
of international observers.  And I hope that it will help to make fair of the 
process of elections and to correct all the problems, which we have had before.

MS. JEWETT:  It is very welcome the invitations to double the number of 
observers.  I think that is a very positive step.  And what is important in 
addition to that is giving those international observers and also the domestic 
observers access to all steps in the process, including the tabulation that 
happens at the district, election commissions and higher.  And that is 
particularly a role for domestic observers, but also international observers as 
well.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  If possible, I wanted to respond to the point about the 
situation around Radio Free Liberty in Kyrgyzstan.  I have opened the Web site 
of Radio Azattyk in the Internet and I did not find any complaints and 
restrictions to broadcast in Kyrgyzstan.  What I remember that in 2006, 
initiated by the journalists of Radio Azattyk, television program, 
“Inconvenient Questions,” on the national TV.  And it was not the part of the 
broadcasting Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.  And journalists rented the 
time for this program and they couldn’t pay for the air.  That is why they 
didn’t officially claim about that matter.  And it is just the problem that 
they have.  And on the Web site, I see that all the activities and what is 
provided by the Radio Free Europe and Kyrgyz service Radio Azattyk, it is going 
well and maybe you have some other evidences I don’t know.

MS. JEWETT:  I think that concern, if I understand it correctly, is the ability 
to broadcast in the regions – that that has been restricted.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  No, no.  No, I didn’t find any complaints about restrictions.

MS. HELWIG:  Okay.  I will ask another question and this is for anybody.  
Frustrations caused by poverty, unemployment, corruption and nepotism were 
major driving factors behind the 2005 Tulip Revolution.  This year we see 
Kyrgyzstan suffering from the economic crisis because its economy was also in a 
fragile state and corruption seems only to have deepened.  How much will these 
issues be weighing on the minds of the voters?

Who wants to take that one?  Erica?

MS. MARAT:  As far as I know, some opposition leaders thought the ongoing 
energy crisis could help them mobilize crowds and help them to protest – help 
them to organize demonstrations before and after elections.  But right now it 
doesn’t seem to be the case and some opposition leaders complain that there is 
certain apathy among population to come together and demand free and fair 
election and how poverty and other frustrations will influence the voter.  I 
believe we will never find out unless we have results, you know, the correct 
results revealed.  We will not find out because I think the election results 
will be falsified.  And there is no way of seeing what was – there are, of 
course, possibilities to see how the population voted.  But if we don’t have 
free and fair elections, we can’t really monitor how people behave at elections.

MS. JEWETT:  NDI recently conducted some focus groups in Kyrgyzstan.  And one 
of the major findings, Janice, was that people are very concerned about 
corruption.  So I think it will weigh heavily on voters’ minds.  Some of the 
comments were that corruption in all spheres has grown over the period of the 
last two or three years.  People believe that there should be harsh punishment 
for corrupt officials and people in these focus groups proposed as measures for 
tackling corruption more publicity, more transparency and requirements for 
following procedures.  And people noted that the low salaries of government 
officials contributes to corruption.  So I think it was a big issue on 
everyone’s mind.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  We are going through the special program of Millennium 
Challenge Account and my hope that it will further open society will bring open 
world organizations, will bring here our judges, our prosecutors and militia.  
And they are here to try to learn how to combat the corruption and how to 
improve our government.  And this program is set up for three years.  And with 
U.S. government, we try, you know, to change the system and to improve the 
situation.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.  A follow-up question.  Dr. Marat mentioned the apathy 
of voters.  And I was wondering – this question, if anybody can answer it, 
again, how do you explain why street politics, which has been such a 
characteristic of the country for years, now seems to have ceased or at least 
lost its potency?

MS. MARAT:  About street protests, well, for a couple of years after the Tulip 
Revolution, you could see how political leaders, be they from opposition or 
government, learned ways of organizing people into large demonstrations.  They 
had a sort of toolkit for gathering people for a certain cause or a certain 
place.  You know, anything from transportation to organizing their 
accommodation and food, et cetera.  

But in the past few years, you could see that there is a sort of a slowdown of 
street protests in Kyrgyzstan.  I think it is because of a combination of two 
factors.  First, the opposition sort of exhausted its potential to organize 
people in mass demonstrations.  There were too many demonstrations that were 
driven by individual opposition leaders’ ambition and they were not 
strategically planned.  They were basically – they were a failure very often.  

And second of all, is, of course, a number of laws introduced by Bakiev 
government and parliament in the past few years that restrict freedom of 
assembly, freedom of organizing or for organizing demonstrations at certain 
places in Bishkek, for example, and all sorts of different filters for 
organizers of demonstrations were introduced such as also for instance, 
requesting permission to organize demonstrations several days in advance.

So these two factors – first, the opposition’s own mistakes and the 
government’s restrictions, they contributed a lot to this apathy among 
population.  Thank you.

MS. HELWIG:  Anyone else like to respond to that?  No.  Okay, I think at this 
point, I would like to see if we have any questions from the audience.  I would 
like to have a bit of a discussion here.  And if you would come up, we have a 
microphone here.  You can introduce yourselves and ask your question.

Q:  This microphone?

MS. HELWIG:  Yes, it should be on.

Q:  Hi, John Conlin (ph) from the office of Senator Roger Wicker.  I was 
wondering if the panelists could comment, perhaps, on the attitude of the 
regional powers toward the forthcoming election.

Q:  Regional powers in – 

MS. HELWIG:  Perhaps you can repeat – 

Q:  China, the United States, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan.  

MS. HELWIG:  Who would like to take that one?  Jump right in.

MS. JEWETT:  I can take a stab at it.  I can’t speak for any of those 
governments, nor would I want to.  But I suspect that there is real interest in 
what happens in Kyrgyzstan because there was the so-called Tulip Revolution in 
2005.  And there is concern – there remains concern throughout the region that 
another color revolution is possible.  So Kyrgyzstan, I think, would be watched 
closely for that reason.

There has been much speculation about the connections between the President 
Bakiev’s visit to Russia, the offer of a sizable loan to Kyrgyzstan, the 
request or demand for the U.S. to leave the Manas Air Base and this election.  
It is not possible for me to connect all of those dots.  But there is a lot of 
speculation that all of them may be connected in some way.  

So I guess to sum up, I would think there is great interest among the 
neighboring countries about how this election proceeds and what its outcome 
will be.

MS. HELWIG:  Okay.  We have another other questions?

Q:  Ben Daily (sp), oversight subcommittee of Foreign Affairs.  I was hoping 
that maybe you could touch a little bit more on a comment made by Dr. Marat 
with regards to the closure of the U.S. airbase in Manas.  She stated in her 
opening comment that that was a direct result to some of President Bakiev’s 
personal motives or business motives of his small political party.  What do the 
other panelists think of that?  And what are their speculations as to the 
motives of this incident?

MS. HELWIG:  Who would like to answer that?

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  Maybe Erica because she mentioned about – 

MS. HELWIG:  Perhaps Erica could start and then I don’t know, ambassador, if 
you have sort of some official comments for us.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  Yes.

MS. HELWIG:  Dr. Marat?

MS. MARAT:  I don’t think this question was address to me, was it?

Q:  No, it was actually with regard to a comment she had made.  Sorry.  I 
should repeat that.  I apologize.  So the question was Dr. Marat stated that 
the currently President Bakiev has recently stated that he is trying to push 
out U.S. troops that occupying the Manas Air Base or Airport.  So my question 
was I would like to hear the commentary from the other panelists that Dr. Marat 
thinks that that is because that is a personal motive and they are receiving 
$2.1 billion for this action from Russia.  So I would just be interested – I 
have been watching the news closely and so has my chairman.  I was just kind of 
interested to see if you had any dialogue and any commentaries that does lead 
up to this early election process.

MS. JEWETT:  I would not want to speculate about President Bakiev’s motives.  
But I think it is fair to say that Kyrgyzstan has a very challenging – has a 
great challenge in trying to balance its relationships with a lot of – a number 
of large and powerful countries, Russia and the United States among them.  And 
I do not envy them, that challenge, and the competing demands that they feel.  
But what President Bakiev’s personal motives were, I would not want to 
speculate.

MS. HELWIG:  Anyone else?  Do you have any other questions?  Okay, well, maybe 
while you all think of some more, I actually have a few more myself.  These, I 
would like to talk a little bit very directly about the elections.  The former 
chair of the central election committee, Mrs. Kabilova, fled Kyrgyzstan last 
fall, claiming that President Bakiev’s son had pressured her during local 
elections.  Although I understand she recently retracted her accusation, there 
are many reasons, of course, why she might have done that.

My question is, do you all think that the central electoral commission is 
unbiased?  Or do you think it may be getting pressure from the ruling party?

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  I can – 

MS. HELWIG:  Ambassador, please.

AMB. SYDYKOVA:  I can answer.  I don’t think that she would come back to the 
country if what she said before, it was true.  And now she is in the country 
and I read her interview in newspaper.  And I hope that if everything that 
happened before, she could easily get asylum in one of the European countries, 
safety for her and for her family.  And I have no – some means not to believe 
to her interview of what she give after her returning back home.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.  Anyone else like to talk about the central electoral 
commission?

MS. JEWETT:  The actions of the central election commission in past elections 
have been called into question.  And I am not aware that there have been major 
changes in the composition of election commissions at all levels sufficient to 
allay those concerns.

MS. HELWIG:  Okay, thank you.  I will be going out myself, I hope, as an 
election observer with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  And I wondered if any 
of you had advice on what specifically – what are some of the main issues that 
the international observers should be looking for while they are there?

MS. JEWETT:  Yes, yes, we do.  I would certainly encourage you to spend time 
talking with domestic election observers, both the non-partisan observers and 
observers from political parties, all political parties, both the 
pro-government and opposition parties.  And on election day, I think it would 
be very important to monitor whether all observers do have access to all parts 
of the process, not just in the precincts, but as the tabulation occurs going 
up the chain.  It will be important in the pre-election period to observe the 
media coverage and whether it is unbiased and whether all candidates have an 
opportunity to present their points of view.  And it will be important to talk 
with the campaigns about whether they have had opportunities for their 
candidate and the candidate’s allies to campaign freely and gather with votes 
throughout the campaign period.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.  Anyone else?  No?  I have one more election-related 
question.  If the opposition were to contest the election as being not free and 
not fair, do you think there would be any public reaction to that?  

MS. JEWETT:  In Kyrgyzstan?

MS. HELWIG:  Yes.  From the voters, I mean.

MS. JEWETT:  It will be up to the people of Kyrgyzstan to decide how they would 
handle that situation.  But I think it is fair to say that there is already, as 
I mentioned, skepticism among Kyrgyz voters about electoral procedures.  So if 
there are extraordinary steps taken now to improve the process, then I think it 
is likely that voters would have confidence in the official results, whether or 
not the opposition accepts them.  But if the voters themselves don’t feel that 
the process is transparent or fair, then it won’t matter what the opposition 
says.  I think people are likely to protest.

MS. MARAT:  I also would like to mention the problem of voter registration.  
There is a high level of internal and external migration in Kyrgyzstan and 
outside of Kyrgyzstan.  Very often lists of voters are outdated.  They do not – 
they have a lot of names – you know, they have a lot of people registered who 
are not living in this or that particular village or town, but are living in 
Bishkek or Kazakhstan or Russia.  And this does give some leeway for 
falsification of voting results as well.

As far as any – will there be any public criticism of election results?  There 
might be, but the question is also how – what would be the turnout of Kyrgyz 
citizens on the election day?  It is going to be a summer weekend.  And as 
speakers before me noted, the election procedures are very dubious and we could 
see from local elections last year and parliamentary elections in 2007 that no 
matter how loud the regime’s opponents are and no matter how much the regime 
promises, how much transparency, sorry, the regime promises and how many 
observers the regime – the government invites, the outcome is always – always 
favors the regime itself.

And there is a certain – my feeling is that there is – and again, this might be 
very subjective, but there is – again, there is a certain apathy among Kyrgyz 
voters about the upcoming elections.  And many Kyrgyz citizens are sort of, you 
know, they are resigned – they just agree with the possibility that Bakiev will 
be reelected again.  Thank you.

MS. HELWIG:  Thank you.  May I just check and see if there is anyone in the 
audience who has thought of a question in the meantime they would like to ask?  
No.  Okay, well, I think we will go ahead and wrap up at this point then.  I 
would like to very much thank our panelists for participating.  And I would 
like to apologize once again that we did not have our members here.  We had at 
least four that had wanted to come and in particular, Chairman Hastings very 
much wanted to come.  But unfortunately, while we have been here, there have 
been about 28 votes going on.  And so unfortunately, that made it bit hard to 
get out here.  Mr. Hastings’ statement is on the table, so I hope you will pick 
a copy up on the way out.  Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

(END)