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Kyrgyz Elections: Osh Observations

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Kyrgyz Elections: Osh Observations

On 4 October 2015 the Kyrgyz Republic held its sixth post-Soviet elections to the parliament, or Jogorku Kengesh. The 2010 Constitution had created a stronger parliament with a greater role in Kyrgyz politics, an island of political competition in a sea of autocratic presidents in post-Soviet Central Asia. Furthermore, the poll saw the introduction of new measures intended to combat voter fraud. As such the conduct of these elections was particularly significant.

Almost 2400 polling stations across the county were equipped with finger print scanners, used to identify and verify voters, as well as ballot scanners on high-tech ballot boxes providing the option of an automated vote count. Citizens who had not undergone biometric registration during the previous year for the new Unified Population Register would not be included in the voter list, potentially disenfranchising some in rural areas or amongst the large percentage of the population working abroad.

Voting for the 120 members of parliament was held under a proportional representation system from closed party lists in one nationwide constituency. Fourteen parties, which still tend to be dominated by personalities rather than programmes or policies, made it onto the ballot paper. These represented both the governing coalition and the parliamentary opposition, as well as several newly created parties.

As an observer in the country’s second largest city, Osh, one could see active election campaigning. The violence which broke out in the region in 2010 was not repeated, with no clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities around Osh. On polling day itself, the new voting technologies appeared to work satisfactorily in the polling stations visited with only minor hiccups. Voters who completed biometric registration could usually be identified by their fingerprints, although some did find they had to go to a different polling station to vote.

There were persistent rumours and accusations of vote buying by some parties in Osh province from voters, domestic observers and other local interlocutors. There were suggestions that it might be more prevalent here than in other parts of the country. While difficult to prove, one could observe activities around some polling stations, particularly in poorer neighbourhoods, which might suggest that some voters had received payments in advance and were checking in with party representatives to confirm they had turned out to vote. 

Rather than mistrust or be wary of the accuracy of the new ballot scanners fitted to ballot boxes, it appears during the count in some Osh polling stations that committee members and local observers were happy to accept the automated print outs from the scanner as a definitive final result, rather than treating them as a control mechanism for a manual count. This meant that the procedures for the manual count might be rushed or followed out of sequence. One did not observe attempts to actually falsify the results themselves however.

International observers from OSCE/ODIHR gave the Kyrgyz elections as a whole a broadly positive assessment, while noting some procedural problems with counting and tabulation. After voting six parties (one more than in 2010) met the double threshold for representation in parliament: 7% of the vote nationwide and 0.7% in each province. Turnout was 60%. The pro-presidential Social Democratic Party secured the largest number of seats (38) while the opposition Respublika–Ata-Zhurt gained the second largest number (28). Negotiations are ongoing in the difficult process of forming a new governing coalition in this pluralistic exception to the Central Asian norm.

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