Elections show positive democratic development

-The elections in Kyrgyzstan 4 October highlight the country's uniquely democratic position in Central Asia, says Marius Fossum, Norwegian Helsinki Committee Regional Representative in Central Asia, who was present in the capital Bishkek on election day and during the last days of campaigning.

The elections were characterized by political pluralism and the free manner in which they were conducted, although several shortcomings were reported, Fossum continues.

The election was the second parliamentary elections after the June 2010 reforms, where Kyrgyzstan went from a presidential system to a parliamentary democracy.

According to official figures, there was a 57.56% voter turnout at the elections that were conducted peacefully and, despite several shortcomings, generally fairly and freely.

The two largest parties in parliament became the Social Democratic Party with 27.44% of the popular vote and 38 representatives won, and Respublika-Ata-Zhurt with 20% of the vote and 28 seats. The Kyrgyzstan party, the Onuguu-Progress party and Bir Bol, all new parties, won respectively 18, 13 and 12 seats. Ata Meken, the socialist party, won 11 seats.

Although Kyrgyzstan’s election process showed signs of weaknesses and imperfections, the elections stand out as the most democratic in Central Asia to date, showcasing several marks of progress.

In order to combat voter fraud, Kyrgyzstan has recently implemented biometric voter registration. The new system posed several challenges as some voters refrained from giving up biometric data due to privacy concerns, and numerous instances of technical and administrative difficulties with the system’s usage were reported.

-Despite technical and administrative challenges, the implementation of biometric voter registration highlights Kyrgyzstan’s uniquely democratic position in Central Asia, where voter fraud and ballot stuffing traditionally represent serious democratic problems, Fossum continues.

A broad specter of political advertisement and campaign material was highly visible throughout the country in the time leading up to election day, bearing witness of a political pluralism unprecedented in the region, and presenting voters with a variety of choice.

-Kyrgyzstan has travelled a difficult path in recent years, but we believe elections providing voters with a wide range of choice are a step in the right direction, said Ivar Dale, Senior Advisor in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Democratic challenges were also reported. The NHC talked to voters who claimed to have been subjected to attempted vote buying. We also received credible reports of such practice taking place. These reports and testimonies about vote buying is an indication that the problem could still pose a challenge in Kyrgyzstan. The NHC encourages the Kyrgyzstani government to take such reports seriously and undertake all necessary measures to uproot the problem.

Another issue with the elections was the president’s high visibility throughout the campaign, which most likely represented an unfair advantage for the Social Democratic Party, with which he is still strongly associated.

The 57.56% voter turnout is a sign that Kyrgyzstan still has an unfulfilled potential in terms of democratic participation. However, the low reported turnout can also be interpreted as a manifestation of clean elections. Official sources in neighboring Central Asian republics invariably cite drastically higher voter turnouts and, moreover, have never held elections deemed free and fair by the OSCE/ODIHR, and voter fraud is generally considered widespread. The comparatively low reported turnout in Kyrgyzstan in the 4 October elections can be seen as an indication that voter fraud was not widespread in these elections.

-All in all, though several shortcomings need to be addressed, the manner in which the elections were carried out reaffirms Kyrgyzstan’s position as an oasis of progress in an otherwise barren region, Marius Fossum concluded.