SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
KYRGYZSTAN BEFORE THE ELECTIONS
HER EXCELLENCY ZAMIRA SYDYKOVA,
AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES,
THE REPUBLIC OF KYRGYZSTAN
THE JAMESTOWN FOUNDATION
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],
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.