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Politics - 2000-2005

Two rounds of parliamentary elections were held on February 20, 2000 and March 12, 2000. With the full backing of the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the elections failed to comply with commitments to free and fair elections and hence were invalid. Questionable judicial proceedings against opposition candidates and parties limited the choice of candidates available to Kyrgyz voters, while state-controlled media only reported favorably on official candidates. Government officials put pressure on independent media outlets that favored the opposition. The presidential election that followed later in 2000 also was marred by irregularities and was not declared free and fair by international observers.

The Kyrgyz opposition wanted the country to make a leap forward that would put it ahead of many other former Soviet states, including Russia, in terms of democratic development. President Akayev's Kyrgyzstan was usually considered the most democratic of Central Asian states, with Akayev often taking credit for the fact that the opposition had its own voice and expressed its opinion in the independent media, unlike in any neighbouring country.

Many observers believed the Kyrgyz are keen on democracy because personal freedom has been at the heart of their nomadic culture. With Islam not as deeply embedded here as in the rest of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz seem to be closer to the Buddhist Mongols than to Muslim Uzbeks or Tajiks.

The Kyrgyz Republic had been viewed as one of the most democratic countries of the former Soviet Union. However, the government moved to curb press freedom, and corruption is endemic. The first president of the country, Askar Akeyev, was a scientist rather than a party 'apparatchik' and was chosen as a compromise candidate to lead the republic in the days before the breakup of the Soviet Union. In December 1995, President Akayev was reelected in the first multicandidate presidential elections in Central Asia. In 2000, he was reelected in elections that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined were not free and fair.

The Tulip Revolution

Mr Akayev's rhetoric about democracy and the need to develop friendly relations with the West was hardly distinguishable from that of the opposition, but the latter have claimed that the president had deviated from the democratic path and that his government had become steeped in corruption. At the February 2005, parliamentary election, opposition leaders were barred from participating, while two of Mr Akayev's children were elected, prompting speculation he intended to create a ruling dynasty - an idea seemingly entertained by many post-Soviet Central Asian leaders.

Parliamentary elections were held on March 13, 2005 and resulted in pro-government parties winning a majority of the seats. The opposition managed to win only six of the parliament's 75 slots. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s observer mission noted that the elections had suffered from a number of shortcomings "including lack of effective voter access to diverse sources of information, bias in the media, continued de-registration of candidates on minor grounds, which are within national law but restrict genuine competition, and inaccurate and poorly maintained voter lists."

The apparent fraud at the polls inspired popular protests across the country, including the Jalalabad region. On March 15, protestors loyal to the opposition held captive the northern Talas District's regional governor as well another local official.

The following day, U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Stephen Young, publicly concurred with the OSCE mission's findings. Akayev responded by accusing Washington of orchestrating the opposition protests, and he complained about the U.S. ambassador's inability to see a difference between his government and regimes in other Central Asian states.

The U.S. State Department announced on March 20 that it was "concerned by incidents of violence in Jalalabad and other parts of the country. [and called] on all parties in Kyrgyzstan to engage in dialogue and resolve differences peacefully and according to the rule of law." In a March 22, briefing, the State Department said that it was "critical that the [Kyrgyz] government address election irregularities in ways that are transparent and legal" while noting that Akayev had "directed the central election commission and supreme court to investigate contested election results".

U.S. criticism of the situation in Kygyzstan was, however, more muted than in the recent case of Ukraine. In Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. waited for an investigation to "know the scope of the irregularities" involved before deciding on whether to push for new elections. It was unclear whether the fraud involved was on scale comparable to that of the 2004 Ukrainian elections.

On March 22, President Askar Akayev confirmed that he would not declare a state of emergency, and that Kyrgyz authorities would withdraw law-enforcement divisions from southern Kyrgyzstan to minimize the potential for violent clashes with protestors. The following day, Akayev replaced the Interior Minister Bakirdin and Prosecutor-General for their failure to prevent violence in the south.

On March 24, 2005, Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court issued a ruling invalidating the results from the disputed parliamentary elections. That same day, 15,000 opposition demonstrators occupied the capital of Bishkek, and some stormed the presidential compound. Police and Interior Ministry troops reportedly offered no resistance. The opposition also occupied the buildings for the Kyrgyz state radio and television. Feliks Kulov, a prominent opposition figure, was also released from jail.

President Akayev fled the country for Kazakhstan immediately and never returned. Following these events, Cholpon Bayekova, chairwomen of Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court, announced on national television that the country's Prime Minister, Nikolai Tanaev, had resigned and that the coalition of opposition parties known as the "Coordination Council of the Kyrgyzstan People Unity" would serve as the country's provisional government. Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev was named acting President and Prime Minister. Bakiyev formed an alliance with primary rival Feliks Kulov whereby Kulov agreed to drop out of the presidential race if Bakiyev appointed him Prime Minister upon winning the elections.

Bakiyev easily won the July 10, 2005 presidential elections with over 88% of the vote. Observers monitored the elections and noted significant improvements in the electoral process over the parliamentary elections, although there were some reports of irregularities.



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