Published in Field Reports

By Arslan Sabyrbekov (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

In October 2015, the second parliamentary elections under the 2010 Constitution are scheduled to take place in Kyrgyzstan. The country is in the midst of debating reform of its electoral system with political forces trying to define the “rules of the game” in their own interests. According to the recommendations of the Venice Commission, amendments to the electoral system must be introduced at least one year prior to the elections and Kyrgyzstan is already behind schedule.

The working group on reforming the existing electoral system, chaired by the head of the presidential administration Daniyar Narymbaev, recently issued a statement that all the amendments will be finalized and submitted to the parliament in February at the latest. The initiative on dividing the country into 9 constituencies was already adopted in the first reading. Other initiatives concern the formation of the voters’ list, the bill on conducting elections on the basis of biometric data, automation of the entire electoral process – from issuing ballots to counting the end election results as well as bills related to increasing the size of the parties’ required electoral fund and raising the electoral threshold to 10 percent from the current 5. These last two initiatives have led to widespread discussions in the country’s expert and political circles. According to the leader of the country’s ruling Social Democratic Party and one of the initiators of these norms, Chynybai Tursunbekov, “these initiatives will foster the country’s stability by getting rid of the smaller political forces and having 3 or 4 political parties in the parliament with a stable electorate and political capital.”

However, the country’s prominent civil society activists take a different position and perceive these initiatives as an effort to further consolidate power and another drawback in the country’s democratic development. “We should keep the threshold at 5 percent. Doubling the threshold will definitely remove the chance for smaller political parties to compete and the country risks ending up with one or two political parties in the parliament, like during the times of the first two ousted presidents,” noted Dinara Oshurakhunova, leader of the Bishkek-based “Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society.” Indeed, even the last parliamentary elections of 2010 with a threshold of 5 percent showed that this number is still high for Kyrgyzstan. Then, none of the political parties currently represented in the country’s legislature managed to pass the proposed 10 percent threshold, making the warning that the state machine could be used for the benefit of certain political forces in the upcoming elections quite legitimate. In 2010, only 5 parties out of 29 competing were able to enter parliament and represented less than 50 percent of the electorate.

According to local experts, this initiative has already led to the formation of unions between several major political parties: Ata Jurt and Respublika as well as Butun Kyrgyzstan and Bir Bol. According to political analyst Marat Kazakpaev, “these unions are not guided by ideological commonalities but rather by short-term opportunistic interests. This in turn damages Kyrgyzstan’s path towards developing a stronger parliamentarian system.” Kazakpaev has also noted that the initiative to increase the required election fund will make it impossible for smaller political parties to compete, forcing them to unite with others who have sufficient financial resources. Currently, only a few parties can manage to raise the required sum of 10 million KGS or around US$ 165,000.

In the meantime, the government is actively collecting biometric data on citizens, arguing that this will help holding the upcoming parliamentary elections in a fair and transparent manner. However, critics of the initiative see political interest behind it, claiming that citizens who have failed to submit their biometric data will be deprived of their right to vote, just like in the last presidential elections where hundreds of citizens were not included in the voters’ list and could not therefore cast their ballots.

In addition, electoral reform and especially its automation requires significant financial resources. Despite recent drawbacks in Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development, the European Union has expressed its readiness to allocate 10 million Euros for these purposes, along with Switzerland providing another US$ 2 million.

The author writes in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the organization for which he works.

Published in Field Reports

By Oleg Salimov (02/18/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon addressed the parliament in his annual speech on January 23, 2015. Rakhmon reviewed Tajikistan’s accomplishments in the socioeconomic sphere in 2014 and outlined his proposals for the country’s development in 2015. Rakhmon presented a highly detailed review of the work done by the Tajik government in 2014, highlighting numerous improvements supported by meticulous statistical data. In the speech, summaries of specific accomplishments were followed by appeals for further improvement.

In his annual address, Rakhmon focused mostly on economics, social problems, energy independence, transportation infrastructure, water resources, education and youth problems, and terrorism. Rakhmon specifically addressed the importance of developing a strong ideological basis in order to unify the people of Tajikistan and enhance their patriotism. Rakhmon also announced 2015 as the “Year of the Family,” translating into a separate set of tasks for the government and legislature in 2015. The president only cursorily mentioned Tajikistan’s parliamentary elections, even though these are scheduled to take place on March 1, 2015. 

A few points in Rakhmon’s speech require closer attention. When speaking about economics, Rakhmon stressed the role of heavy industry, natural resources extraction, and Tajikistan’s hydroelectric power potential as it seeks to find its niche in the global market. In Rakhmon’s vision, the development of the agricultural sector is essential mostly for the country’s internal consumption and substitution of imported produce. According to Rakhmon’s speech, Tajikistan’s mid-term goal to transform from a largely agricultural society into a resource-supplying country with a perspective, in the long-run, to become a self-sufficient industrialized economy.

This enormous task can encounter such problems as insufficient human capital, technological deficiency, and inability of the state to attract necessary financial investments. Rakhmon touched on these problems as part of Tajikistan’s broader socioeconomic challenges, yet he made no direct reference to his proposal for economic transformation. The country’s transportation gridlock creates another obstacle for Tajikistan on its way to industrialization. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad project, which started in March 2013 and would have provided Tajikistan with access to the Caspian and South-Asian markets, stalled as the participating countries disagree on the route of the railroad.   

Tajikistan also continually suffers from an energy crisis. Although the country possesses a significant hydroelectric power capability, it suffers from a constant deficit of electricity vital for industrialization. While Rakhmon reports a significant increase in electricity production, the power limit for residential consumption remains at 6 hours daily in the winter time. Additionally, the hydroelectric power company Barki Tojik, which Rakhmon sees as an important player in advancing Tajikistan’s energy independence and hydroelectric power export, struggles with considerable financial difficulties. The company’s debt to suppliers and Tajikistan’s Taxation Department totals US$ 300 million as of August 2014. Tajikistan’s state budget is also cash strained as the export of aluminum, the main income-generating item, was cut from 216,000 tons in 2013 to 121,200 tons in 2014, according to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade Sharif Rakhimzoda.

Another significant part of Rakhmon’s speech was an appeal for constructing an ideological platform for Tajikistan, which must encourage patriotism, pride of the national and cultural heritage, and loyalty to the country’s interests. This task was in large part delegated to the Tajik Academy of Sciences. The ideology has to counterbalance propaganda hostile to Tajikistan. Rakhmon also underlined that, among other tasks, the Academy has to intensify its efforts to study the Tajik Civil War of 1992-97 and presenting more accurate and objective information on the issue as compared to other sources. It should be noted that last year a Tajik scholar from Canada was arrested in Tajikistan when trying to conduct research on the Tajik Civil War, unauthorized by the Tajik government. The apparent motive behind these proposals is to increase the legitimacy of the current regime. Rakhmon’s image as a peacemaker has helped him retain power for almost two decades and he intends to continue to do so in the future.

In general, Rakhmon’s annual address to parliament presented the same set of issues that the country has been trying to resolve since independence. As in last year’s speech, the current proposals for export increases, industrialization, energy independence, and resolution of the transportation impasse lacked specific plans for action and follow-up reviews. Besides, several factors and actors supposedly assisting the economic development process have collapsed or struggle to function, as seen in the example of the TAT railroad and Barki Tojik. Therefore, Rakhmon’s proposals constitute the acknowledgment of problems rather solutions to them.

Published in Field Reports

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. 

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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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