The "Velvet Revolution" Cuts East

Roza! Roza!

The leading Opposition Candidate, Roza Ottumbayeva, is the leader of Ata-Zhurt [Fatherland], an opposition block in Kyrgyzstan (map here). She was foreign minister and ambassador to the United States and Great Britain in the 1990’s. She was not allowed to run in this first round of voting. So her rival, President Akayev’s daughter, Bermet Akayeva, was assumed to be a shoe-in as the elected delegate for the province. However, when the results came in there was no clear majority so that there will be a forced runoff in mid-March. Here is part of the powerful exchange Roza had yesterday with the Turkish Weekly:

“There are objective laws of political and social evolution. Wave of “velvet revolutions” swept over Central and East Europe and affected the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. This tsunami was not to be stopped. We are seeing the second wave now. Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova – this movement cannot be stopped either. It is clear that this movement will continue in Kyrgyzstan in the period between parliamentary and presidential elections, i.e. between March and October. We are convinced that “velvet revolutions” topple and will go on toppling the corrupt regimes political scientists call “imitations of democracy”

…There are no spheres of public or political life in Kyrgyzstan where Western money is not present. With the regime we have in Kyrgyzstan, Western loans and grants corrupted society. All our intelligentsia is involved in Western projects.

The opposition objects to this whole system. It cannot boast of a similar financial standing. On the other hand, I know for a fact that the West is with us, that it will help us with development of a democratic system.

The opposition pins a lot of hopes on Russia. We hope that Russia learned from the lessons of Ukraine and Abkhazia and that it will be unbiased in the matter of Kyrgyzstan. So respectable a country should know better than defending the regimes whose time is up. Russia has a lot of interests in Kyrgyzstan but it should not think that Akayev is the only man capable of promoting them.

Meanwhile in the US today, Senator John McCain (R-AZ)slammed the marred balloting in Kyrgyzstan and neighboring Tajikistan:

“The parliamentary elections held February 27 in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan provided an unambiguous test of each government’s commitment to democracy. Both have failed.

“International observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), found that Kyrgyzstan’s elections fell short of international standards. Election day was marred by vote buying, deregistration of candidates, and media interference, and followed hyperbolic warnings by officials about the dangers of civil war.

I am particularly outraged by the forced shut-down of the only independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan, just four days before the election. I serve as Chairman of the press’ supervisory committee, and I fully support its provision of printing services to over sixty local and regional newspapers. After President Akaev reacted publicly to media reports alleging corruption, electrical power was cut off to the printing house. This sort of information control is reminiscent of the old Soviet days, and simply has no place in a free democracy.

“Earlier this month, Senator Joseph Biden and I introduced S. Res 66, which urged the government in Bishkek to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process. Despite its failure to do so, there exists a remaining chance for Kyrgyzstan to embrace democracy. The March 13 runoff elections will provide a final opportunity for the officials to do what is right for themselves and their country. While all that has transpired thus far makes me very skeptical about the chances for a democratic run-off, that option remains entirely available. Kyrgyz officials know that the world is watching, and they should also know that choosing to deny their people the most basic political rights will carry profound implications…”

And, the election was not business as usual for the the present administration with a majority of the districts going to a second round:

Though tending towards authoritarianism, Central Asian nations continue to hold elections on a periodic basis. Until Kyrgyzstan’s February 27 parliamentary ballot, elections in the region seemed to follow a pre-determined script, invariably handing incumbent authorities decisive victories amid international criticism over voting irregularities, ranging from media manipulation to outright ballot-stuffing.

While the Kyrgyz parliamentary election featured the usual international criticism about electoral flaws, the results clearly did not hand President Akayev the type of victory that many political analysts in Bishkek had expected. In 44 of the 75 electoral districts, the tallies were indecisive, necessitating run-off votes on March 13. Some observers see Akayev’s inability to secure a sound parliamentary majority in the first round as a stunning political defeat.

The perception of strong leadership is an essential element of “managed democracy.” What the February 27 election results have done is plant an impression in Kyrgyz political circles that Akayev may lack the political muscle to coerce the population into going along with his administration’s political agenda. Indeed, some opposition activists now characterize the February 27 vote as a popular referendum that voted no confidence in the Akayev administration.

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