By Zamira Sydykova (01/22/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

It is not even ten years since Kyrgyzstan went through two revolutions and an ethnic conflict of the summer of 2010, but we are now approaching new parliamentary elections which, as we are promised, will employ new IT technologies. However, even today, more than six months before the elections (they are planned for October-November 2015) these technologies are a subject of concern among the general population and of an even bigger unease among politicians. 

This is the biometrics technology which the government of Kyrgyzstan is making hasty attempts to implement and is so readily reporting every day how many citizens and from which regions submitted their fingerprints.

For Kyrgyz people who already staged two revolutions, one of which (in 2005) was instigated specifically by the falsified elections, each suspicion sparks their revolutionary spirit. Cheated by previous governments, they are very wary of the biometrics and are very apprehensive because they believe that the new elections will spark new instability.

The biometrics technology was only tested during elections by a handful of countries – Mongolia, Bolivia and Venezuela. For instance, in Mongolia, a country with a population of 5 million people, the citizens were fingerprinted and the government retained the fingerprints. Polling stations were equipped with special machines that read the fingerprints of each voter, so on the day of the elections voters would just open up their computers and push on the candidate, party or law that they were voting for and that was it. Voters could vote from anywhere, even if they were in a different city or abroad. The votes were counted immediately.

However, neither Europe, nor the U.S. adopted this approach for reasons of security in general and specifically because this would constitute a violation of the citizens’ right to the secrecy of vote. Their discussions did not even include fingerprinting which in itself is a highly sensitive procedure involving storing highly sensitive information. For instance, in order to collect biometrical data of the 5 million people in Mongolia, 5,000 IT specialists were employed. It is unlikely that they were all sworn to secrecy.

Initially the government of Kyrgyzstan intended to implement an automated system, National Registry of Citizens, which would contain data for different categories of the population. It was later decided to combine this with the voter registration system so that they could obtain a list of voters and their identifying information – all in one registry. But when the campaign to collect biometric data commenced, a lot of issues surfaced. It is entirely possible that this issue would not have gained so much publicity were it not for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Aside from purely technical issues which were in great detail presented in Kyrgyzstan by the civic organization Citizens’ Initiative for Internet Policy, and in particular, how biometric data will be stored in view of the peaked cyber-attacks around the world (e.g. during the elections in Estonia the database was kept in an embassy of a foreign state), there are many other problems which need to be solved.

Biometric voter registration is not prescribed by any law and neither is it part of the constitution which in Part 4 of Article 2 states, “Elections are free. Elections of the representatives to Zhogorku Kenesh, of the President and representatives of the local elective government bodies are held on the basis of universal, equal and direct right to vote by secret ballot”.

The Government of Kyrgyzstan has announced that those who did not submit their fingerprints would not be allowed to vote. Moreover, even if an individual did provide his or her biometric data but for some reason will be in any other place or outside of the country, the person will definitely not be able to vote. However, internal and external migration in Kyrgyzstan are very high. It is inevitable that civic activists will be filing complaints with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Kyrgyz Republic about violation of their voting rights. This, in turn, will add to the chaos surrounding the upcoming political process in the country.  

Part of the population is already of the opinion that the electronic voting will be easy to falsify, whereas the political elite who is poised to take part in the elections yet needs to figure out what rules will apply. At this time the parliament of Kyrgyzstan has on its docket four draft laws on elections. A serious concern is the impending increase of the 10 percent threshold and a non-refundable deposit (which will be just short of a million dollars). This will significantly impede the competitive abilities of political parties. Moreover, these restrictions are proposed by the governing pro-presidential coalition in the parliament. Rumors hold that the upcoming elections are being prepared by the presidential administration and the government and not by the Central Election Committee who now is not in charge of anything, not even of the voter registration.

Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (01/22/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan’s ruling National Democratic Party of (NDPT) held its 12th convention on December 13, 2014. The convention of the largest parliamentary party, holding 45 parliamentary seats out of 63, was led by its chairman, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon. The upcoming national and local parliamentary elections in February 2015 were the central theme of the convention. The delegates discussed the parliamentary work done by the party in the last five years and reviewed the party’s program and agenda for the upcoming parliamentary elections. The current convention also marked the twentieth anniversary of NDPT.

Alongside the NDPT convention in Dushanbe, the second week of December was marred by the increased harassment of opposition political parties and their members. Tajik police held in custody numerous members of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRP), who were headed to IRP’s own convention in Dushanbe, in Djirgatal and Asht districts for several hours without explanation. Also, the deputy chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Tajikistan Shokirjon Khakimov reported an attempted arrest and harassment by police officers before his scheduled roundtable meeting at the Central Election Committee in Dushanbe on December 11. Khakimov is convinced that these incidents were preplanned, likely to repeat, and aimed to intimidate parliamentary candidates.

Pressure on NDPT’s parliamentary opponents is applied also through more subtle, intellectual means. The Center on Modern Processes and Forecasting, which was founded by the Tajik Academy of Science in June 2014, has drawn attention as a result of its controversial statements on the IRP. According to its director, Khafiz Boboerov, the Center was organized with the purpose of establishing a scientific basis for the country’s development process. According to Boboerov, one of the Center’s main research priorities is to establish control over theological, and in particular Islamic, influence in state politics. The Center presents its findings and conclusions on political Islam and the IRP for the consideration of the Tajik government. The statement gives rise to suspicion that the state funded academic institution was created with the primary purpose providing intellectual support for the ruling party’s attempts to weaken its main political opponent.

At the same time, NDPT dominates the political arena in Tajikistan. The party counts nearly 250,000 members and controls 71 percent of Tajikistan’s parliament. It has continuously held a majority in the parliament since the 2000 parliamentary elections. The party includes the youth branch “Builders of Motherland” created in July 2011 and publishes its own newspaper “People’s tribune.” NDPT maintains five executive committees in all regions of the country, which unify 3,458 local representations. NDPT’s December convention was preceded by a convention held one month earlier on November 13 in Sughd region, led by deputy chairman Asror Latifzoda. The Sughd convention reviewed last year’s performance of the party’s regional committees. It also served to reinforce the number of party members ahead of the more important Dushanbe convention in December.

Speaking at the Dushanbe convention, Rakhmon emphasized the importance of attracting younger generations of Tajiks to NDPT’s ranks. The idea behind Rakhmon’s statement is to facilitate a generational succession which can contribute to NDPT’s political longevity and by extension that of the current regime. NDPT also seeks to remain relevant among Tajik labor migrants, which was indicated in the presentation given by Murivat Malikshoev, the NDPT’s representative in Russia’s Irkutsk region. Tajik labor migrants constitute a significant electoral mass outside of Tajikistan and the NDPT branch in Russia is a unique political structure targeting this particular group. NDPT is set to convince Tajik migrants that their ability to live and work in Russia is a direct result of the policies pursued by Rakhmon’s regime and the ruling party.

One of Rakhmon’s most quoted statements at the convention was his proclamation that elections should be open, democratic, and transparent. Rakhmon stressed the NDPT’s commitment to political and economic freedoms, rule of law, freedom of speech, a multiparty system, civil society, and democratization. However, Tajikistan has over the last year seen a tightening of civil liberties through harsh regulations on anti-governmental demonstrations, suppression of political initiatives through the imprisonment of Zaid Saidov, the founder the “New Tajikistan” party, infringements on the freedom of speech through detainment and persecution of various public figures, individuals, and journalists, and repression against opposition parties and their members. While the NDPT is likely to attain a sweeping victory in the approaching parliamentary elections, this outcome will have ambiguous implications for Tajikistan’s democratization. 

Published in Field Reports

By Carolin Funke (08/14/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) emerged as Georgia’s most respected and influential institution. It has played a significant role in the Georgian public sphere ever since and enjoys a high level of trust among the Georgian population. But as Georgia moves towards Euro-Atlantic integration, the GOC increasingly appears to develop into a political force. Recent statements by the clergy on Georgia’s municipal elections and the GOC’s active involvement against law-making and political processes intended to strengthen social and political pluralism raise concerns over its role in Georgia’s democratic development.

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Published in Analytical Articles

By Eka Janashia (08/05/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst) 

The Investigation Service of Georgia’s Ministry of Finance detained Gigi Ugulava, a former mayor of Tbilisi and election campaign chief of the opposition party United National Movement (UNM), at Tbilisi’s airport before boarding a flight to Kiev, on July 3. Ugulava’s arrest sparked apprehension ahead of the decisive second round of the local elections held on July 12.

On July 2, the Tbilisi City Court turned down the prosecution’s motion to prevent Ugulava from traveling to Ukraine by depriving him of his passport and ID card. Since Ugulava has traveled abroad several times and returned back to Georgia for the last two years, the court found it inadvisable to ban his trip. However, the Investigation Service justified the arrest with the “urgent need” to interrogate Ugulava.

Two days earlier, the Investigation Service revealed new criminal charges against Ugulava related to the misspending of public funds and abuse of authority during his term as mayor. In 2009 and 2011, Ugulava allegedly granted preferential treatment to the car parking company CT Park in the distribution of revenues garnered through fines that incurred misspending of around US$ 614,000 in budgetary funds.

After the arrest, Ugulava was incriminated with additional accusations of money laundering and hooliganism taking place at the Marneuli District Election Commission in early June.

Ugulava has purportedly received “black” money amounting to US$ 760,000 from an offshore registered company affiliated with the former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili to fund UNM’s election campaign. In relation to the Marneuli incident, Ugulava was charged under articles 150 and 226 of the criminal code dealing with “coercion” and “organizing actions by a group which violate public order.”

Aside from the most recent indictments, Ugulava has already faced multiple criminal charges since February 2013. The allegations involve misspending and embezzlement of large amounts of public funds (around US$ 28.2 million) in 2011-2012. Although the court suspended Ugulava from the Tbilisi mayor’s office in 2013, it declined the prosecution’s motion for Ugulava’s pre-trial detention and freed him on bail. It was only on July 4, 2014 that the Tbilisi City Court eventually ruled in favor of the prosecution’s request and ordered pre-trial custody for Ugulava.

The court’s decision boosted the protests of UNM supporters rallying outside the court building. The dissent rapidly turned into a clash between police and activists. Several people were detained, including UNM lawmaker Levan Bezhashvili and former ambassador to Italy Kote Gabashvili for the administrative offense of petty hooliganism and disobeying police orders.

Ugulava’s defense lawyer appealed the decision at the Court of Appeals but the judge Giorgi Mirotadze considered the petition as irrelevant. UNM insisted that by this decision, Mirotadze, who became a judge in November 2013, approved to become one of the government’s favorite judges emerging within the judiciary since Georgian Dream came into power. Former PM David Bakradze said the UNM intends to submit Ugulava’s case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

The U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Richard Norland, as well as the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they are deeply concerned with Ugulava’s arrest and will follow the case closely. Their concerns were particularly raised due to the cancelation of a moratorium declared by PM Irakli Garibashvili on April 14, when Garibashvili called on the law enforcement agencies to refrain from detentions or other sorts of legal restrictions against political figures involved in the election campaign.

The head of the EU Delegation to Georgia, Ambassador Philip Dimitrov, warned that signing the Association Agreement does not mean that “everything else, including the liberalization of the visa regime, should be considered to be guaranteed.” More overtly, the Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Jacek Saryusz-Wolski appraised Ugulava’s arrest as “unfortunate development” and blamed Georgian authorities for “political retribution” conducted against Georgia’s main opposition and EPP member-party.

Conversely, PM Garibashvili assessed the court’s decision as a “celebration of justice” and welcomed the reinforced independence of the judiciary. In response, Ugulava wrote on his Facebook account that “prison and exile do not stop political processes.” At the court hearing he denied all charges against him as politically motivated and expressed his determination to continue the fight against the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvi’s regime.

Ugulava’s detention prior to the second round of the local polls not only discredited the moratorium policy, but also triggered expectations about a new wave of politically inspired prosecutions labeled a “restoration of justice.” Maintaining this sort of policy might seriously damage Georgia’s EU-integration course. 

Published in Field Reports
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Joint Center Publications

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell and S. Frederick Starr, Modernization and Regional Cooperation in Central Asia: A New Spring, November 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, ed., Uzbekistan’s New Face, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Turkish-Saudi Rivalry: Behind the Khashoggi Affair,” The American Interest, November 6, 2018.

Article Mamuka Tsereteli, “Landmark Caspian Deal Could Pave Way for Long-Stalled Energy Projects,” World Politics Review, September 2018.

Article Halil Karaveli, “The Myth of Erdoğan’s Power,” Foreign Affairs, August 2018.

Book Halil Karaveli, Why Turkey is Authoritarian, London: Pluto Press, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Erbakan, Kısakürek and the Mainstreaming of Extremism in Turkey,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, June 2018.

Article S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, “Uzbekistan: A New Model for Reform in the Muslim World,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, May 12, 2018.

Silk Road Paper Svante E. Cornell, Religion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan, April 2018.

Book S. Frederick Starr and Svante E. Cornell, The Long Game on the Silk Road: US and EU Strategy for Central Asia and the Caucasus, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Article Svante E. Cornell, “Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?,” Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

 

The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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