Thursday, November 29, 2007

#145: Thoughts

Judging from the pre-election campaigning, it seems that the government will want to have as many small non-opposition parties in the new Parliament as possible. Atameken and Social Democratic Parties regularly attacked by the pro-government media.

The logic is that these harmless parties, even with 1 or 2 seats, will win at the expense of bigger opposition parties. Therefore, smaller parties like People's Voice (ex-MP Bolot Maripov), Aalam (ex-MP Aslam Maliev), Erkindik (Topchubek Turgunaliev), ErK (ex-Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir uulu), Turan (ex-MP Kanybek Imanaliev) will get just enough votes in percentage to have from 1 to 3 candidates from their party lists in the Parliament.

The assumptions here is that the real elections results are ignored. There might be an agreement between these small parties and the authorities.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

#144: Campaining...

I observed the official opening of pre-election campaigning from Naryn. All the billboards with political ads in Naryn (except cell phone and other commercial ads) belonged to Ak Jol Party. This one is located in downtown Naryn. Their slogan 'Bir tütün Kīrgīzstan' is a paraphrased version in Kyrgyz of Akaev's slogan 'Кыргызстан - наш общий дом' - Kyrgyzstan is our common home.
President Bakiev made a few unexpected (some say very much expected) cabinet reshuffles. PM Atambaev, the leader of the Social Democrats (SDPK), was reportedly asked to leave. Edil Baisalov, SDPK's executive secretary, already said that it was an "involuntary" step-down. Atamabaev wanted to remain in the position, thus not run for the parliament, as a counter-balance to prevent the usage of state machinery in favor of Ak Jol Party.

The President also fired the Governor of Osh, Jantörö Satybaldiev, who had pro-opposition inclinations. He was charged with "abuse of power." He apparently was replaced by a more obedient person 20 days before the election day. The Governor of Jalalabad, Iskender Aydaraliev, was promoted to be the Acting PM. He is our 16th prime minister in the history of an independent Kyrgyzstan. This raises the question whether we need a prime minister whatsoever.

Kyrgyz media in their reporting and volume of campaigning ads is heavily leaning towards Ak Jol. Once an opposition newspaper, Agym now became feverishly pro-government after its owner, Melis Eshimkanov, was appointed to head the State TV. Yesterday's issue of the newspaper had Ak Jol Saga, Kīrgīzstan! (Kyrgyzstan, we wish you a bright path) on its front page. Agym usually runs 20 000 copies, but now it is 180 000 copies.

All in all, it is getting politically hotter in Bishkek. Plus, not much snow in the mountains to escape Bishkek and spend a day snowboarding.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

#143: Euro 2008

As I have said in the past, Kyrgyzstan is a Russia-oriented country (two Russia-based TV stations get the most viewership in the country, ahead of the Kyrgyz National TV, and Putin is probably the most popular politician in Kyrgyzstan, ahead of you know who), we tend to follow the European football closely. We cheer when Russia wins a game. We use the word nashi (Russian for 'our') for the Russian team. With England's defeat to Croatia, Russia got a chance to play in the European Championship in 2008.

Commenting on the Russia-Israel game, Russia's Channel1 news reader said that it would be an interesting game because Israel's coach is a Russian citizen (Russia's is a Dutch) and wondered how loyal he would be to Mother Russia. Plus, the news reader mentioned all the Israeli football fans who had emigrated from Russia. Which team they would root for? Regardless, the Russian team lost to Israel. Shame on the English team though.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

#142: Thresholds

Kyrgyzstan is buzzing with discussions of the 5% and 0.5% thresholds for the parliamentary elections. Because of the ambiguous wording of the Elections Code, it was unclear how these thresholds to be calculated. As I've already written, political parties have to secure 5% of all registered voters (135,000 votes), not 5% of the actual number of people who voted on the election day, to get seats in the Parliament. If the turnout is 50%, then this will require parties to get 10% of voters on the actual voting day.

CEC's ruling on the 0.5% threshold caused more anger from political parties. It interpreted that the political parties will have to get 0.5% of votes (13,500 votes) in each of 7 oblasts (provinces) and cities of Bishkek and Osh separately to get any seats. Because of different size of populations in each oblasts and cities, some oblasts, especially the small ones, will be unfairly given more power to decide the outcome of the elections.

Table below shows how, for example, political parties will have to get at least 10% in Osh city, 11.3% in Talas oblast, and 9.4% Naryn oblast to get to the parliament. Political parties will have to work especially hard in those oblasts, similar to the battle for Ohio during the 2004 U.S. Presidential elections. If a party wins in all provinces, but gets only 9% of votes in Osh city, it will be refused to enter the parliament. Trouble expected after December 16.


Voters Registered (appr.)

% required (13,500 votes)

Bishkek (city)



Osh (city)



Batken (oblast)



Chui (oblast)



Issykul (oblast)



Jalalabad (oblast)



Naryn (oblast)



Osh (oblast)



Talas (oblast)



This is if the turnout if 100%. If 70% of people, vote the real threshold will be higher, for example, as high as 15% in Talas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

#141: Islam and Politics in Ferghana Valley

RFE/RL also reports that another prisoner on charges of Islamic extremism reportedly died after being tortured. It just adds up more fuel to the fire.

Monday, November 19, 2007

#140: Rock in Kyrgyzstan

After the hard work of writing essays and sending off my application to a graduate fellowship program, on Friday night I made myself a present. I went to listen to Chizh & Co, a Russian rock and blues band, who were playing at Promzona. They were very popular in the 90s, especially after they released their ballad About Love in 1995. The crowd was accordingly older than the usual visitors of the rock club.
I was a bit disappointed in their performance. They did not play many of their songs, especially About Love. Primarily because Chizh (below) was too high and wasted. He even made a vodka shot between songs.
The drummer was good. He gave a long jam session closer to the end of the night.
Being a fan of rock music, I admit that rock in Kyrgyzstan is unfortunately mostly a Russian thing. 90% of visitors of rock clubs are ethnic Russians. Other non-Russians, including members of rock bands, are ethnic Koreans. You don't see many ethnic Kyrgyz, who actually prefer rap and hip-hop to rock.

Friday, November 16, 2007

#139: Face Control Elections

Political parties are officially allowed to campaign only starting from November 26, but here and there you can see, read, watch, listen to how certain parties, both government and opposition, have already started their campaigns. Party lists have been the most interesting thing to analyze. Some of the lists are disappointing, some surprised me, others were not interesting at all. As of today, 22 parties have registered. They have to complete their registration by November 25.

Because elections fully based on party lists are new to us, people still associate them with specific names. It reminds of all these people that are lined up to get the privilege to enter a night club (our parliament has long become one). You have to be associated with the political party leaders (celebrities of sort). Ak-Jol is clearly associated with President Bakiev, SPDK with PM Atambaev (although is not in the party list), Atameken with ex-MP Tekebaev, Communists with ex-MP Masaliev, Arnamys with ex-PM Kulov, etc.

While looking through party lists, I could not find Marat Sultanov, the last speaker of the Parliament and one of Bakiev's supporters. Another important thing is that religious (Muslim) people have openly expressed interest in entering politics. Country's Ombudsman Tursunbay Bakir uulu, a pious person himself, had Imam Rashot Kamalov, son of late Imam Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin (Kamalov), killed last year by Kyrgyz security forces, in the list of ErK Party. Another new-born Muslim and TV host Myktybek Arstanbek, is #2 in Zamandash Party.

It seems that at least 5 political parties will make to the Parliament on December 16. They are Ak-Jol, Atameken, Social Democrats, Communists, and another small party, in order to dilute the power of the opposition parties in the parliament. The government will need to get in the worst case a majority of seats, but it will need 2/3 of seats to pass any law it wants. Right now, the fight is primarily between Ak-Jol and Atameken. SPDK is trying to keep away from it, but they are being attacked because, I think, the government wants to avoid the repetition of the situation in Ukraine, when Yulia Timoshenko's Bloc won many seats, while the two Victors were fighting with each other.

On a non-political note, the National Bank announced that for the first time since 1991 Kyrgyzstan will have its own coins. Up until this time, we only had paper-money. Most foreigners consider our tyiyn (Kyrgyz cents) as monopoly money, as they are square and in pink, blue, and green colors. We will have coins for 1, 10, 50-tyiyn and 1, 3, and 5-som banknotes. It will be hard to get used to coins again. This is how the new coins will look.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

#138: Grad School

This Friday is a deadline for a graduate fellowship program in the US. Finished the first draft of my statement of purpose. Waiting for two more reference letters from a former employer and a former professor, who actually said we [AUCA graduates] never change and do things at the last moment. Damn procrastination!

I am applying to programs on Public Administration/Policy. Found several good schools in the U.S. and one in Singapore.

Last week I went to see three European films, picked by their embassies in Bishkek. Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past, nominated for Academy Awards and a Grand Prix winner in Cannes, was the best of all. If you get a chance, try to watch it. Good humor.

What really pleased the Bishkek crowd was when an employer at a steel plant in Helsinki said that 80% of her workers were from Kyrgyzstan, when the man who lost his memory said he did not know his name to fill out the necessary paperwork. Bishkek viewers did not care that Kyrgyz workers were being portrayed as illegal workers. Kyrgyzstan is rarely mentioned in Western movies (Asian movies are not popular, because we are a Russia-oriented country) that we are happy when we are mentioned at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#137: Traffic Accidents

While reading reports from GAI (Kyrgyz traffic police) in the news, I get a feeling that on an average day at least two people die from traffic accidents in Kyrgyzstan. The most dangerous zones are Bishkek and the 500km-long Bishkek-Osh highway. You also get some accidents in Issykkul, especially during the summer swimming season, and Naryn.

Friday, November 09, 2007

#136: Kyrgyz Internet

The Kyrgyz blogosphere is widening. A new blogger is Bakyt Beshimov, AUCA's Vice President as well one of active political leaders in the country. His blog is both in Russian and English.

Also, learned that a Kyrgyz newspaper, DeFacto, is now available online. Not only that, now you can download the whole issue in a PDF file.

Today is a great day. First significant snowfall this year. Now I am praying that it will not stop for couple of days so I can get my snowboard out on the hills. As always, snow came suddenly in Kyrgyzstan. It was pretty warm for the past 7 days, as warm as 20C, although last night I could smell snow. And today in the morning I woke up to this view. This is a picture of zigeunerin.
Meanwhile, everyone is awaiting to see the lists of political parties offering the voters for the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Opposition Atameken has already published their list.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

#135: Religion

The Economist published a special report on religions, politics, public life. I suggest every to read it when you have free time. Here are some quotes that I thought were interesting:

We thought that the relationship was between modernisation and secularisation. In fact it was between modernisation and pluralism.” Religion is no longer taken for granted or inherited; it is based around adults making a choice, going to a synagogue, temple, church or mosque. (from here)

Ignorance rules on all sides. Most Muslims seem totally unaware that Arabs can vote in Israel. Many Jews, even in Israel, are separated from the routine miseries of Palestinian life. American evangelicals are shocked to discover that some Palestinians are Christians. (from here)

Hidayet Tuksal [wife of Turkey's PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan] is a confusing figure. Headscarfed and imposing, she grew up in a strict Muslim household in Ankara. At university in the 1980s, she focused on the Koran's teaching about women. She has since made a name arguing that much of the discrimination against women in the Islamic world has scant basis in the sacred text (because Eve was described as weak and flawed, it does not follow that all women are). For this she has got into trouble with traditionalists. (from here)

All in all, the newspaper argues that there is a strong revival of religion, which in the 20th century was suppressed by secularism in US and Europe and atheist policies in Russia (Soviet Union) and China.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

#134: Dushanbe

It was the my first time in Dushanbe and felt like it was between my hometown of Osh and Bishkek, which is my home now. Because I was there on a short work-related trip, I did not have much time to see the town. Here is my story of the trip in pictures:

This is the view from a plane flying over Kyrgyz (Alatoo) and Tajik (Pamir) mountains.
As we approached the city, we made a big circle above it and I got some understanding of how Dushanbe looked like.
Because of the 1-hour time difference, I woke up at 6 am to this view from my hotel room. Unfortunately, I did not ask the people of the name of this mosque.
I was also very surprised to see banana palms. Apparently, the warm season was long enough for bananas to blossom, but too short for them to reap.
I took a sneak picture of what Tajiks claim to be the biggest sleeping Buddha in the world.
It is 13 meters long. It is probably of the same origin as the Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed in 2005 by the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Apart from this, I did not see much. Dushanbe is another Soviet city in Central Asia, although their sidewalks on the main Rudaki Street were wide. Plus, they banned all marshrutkas (chaotic system of vans imitating public transportation) from Rudaki. I also bought an Afghan hat, which you can see on my profile picture.

Although people in former-Soviet Union and abroad always laugh at the Tajik Air, as you can see from cartoonist Ted Rall's depiction below, I did not have a bad experience with it. On the way back, I flew a faster Kyrgyz carrier.
On the road back from the airport to Bishkek, I saw this sign. Just thought that I would share it with you. Just an off-the-topic picture.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

#133: The Economist on Kyrgyzstan

The Economist published an article on Kyrgyzstan. As always, the article is well written, but it is obvious that the author, who seems to be based abroad, wrote the article without understanding some intricacies of political playground. It a sophisticated one with shifting alliances. Appointment of opposition figure Melis Eshimkanov to head the State TV or of notorious Osmonakun Ibraimov (Akaev's State Secretary and ex-Ambassador to India) to Kyrgyz Embassy in London (although the appointment was recalled a day later) are examples of this.

The author wrote: " The outgoing parliament was always going to clash with Mr Bakiyev, for it was a product of the Akayev political hegemony that Mr Bakiyev overthrew." Yes, the outgoing parliament was a product of Akaev and was made up of former Alga Kyrgyzstan Party. However, right after the March 2005 events, the very same MPs who supported Akaev started fervently supporting Bakiev. In fact, he enjoyed full support of the parliament, except a few noisy and irritating MPs. One might ask, so why did he get rid of the parliament?

By writing "The fact that such a tarnished parliament was allowed to continue operating was, in itself, surprising in a country supposedly embarking on a new beginning" the author is being overly optimistic. Nonetheless, the article is finished with the right question. "The Kyrgyz Republic was lauded in the 1990s for having the greatest level of political pluralism and civic freedoms in the CIS. If Mr Bakiyev is minded to restore stability by monopolising power in the more customary CIS manner—by strengthening presidential authority and turning parliament into a rubber stamp—it is worth asking whether he has at his control the resources necessary to buy off opposition as Nursultan Nazarbayev does in Kazakhstan, or the policemen to silence opponents as Islam Karimov does in Uzbekistan."

Monday, November 05, 2007

#132: Horse Games

On the weekends, I went with friends to watch At-Chabysh horse games in Barskoon, Issykul. Here are some pictures from there. They had various traditional games: tyiyn engmey (picking up coins), oodarysh (wrestling on horses), kyz kuumay (chase the girl), eagle and taygan (Kyrgyz shepherds) shows.

Kyrgyz men are watching the games.
Tyiyn engmey: a Kyrgyz сhabandes (horserider) on a galloping horse picking up small stones wrapped in red cloth.
This guy was the best and had the best horse. He picked up 6 at a time.
Oodarysh: wrestlers trying to pull each other off the saddle.
Kyz kuumay: a guy is trying to reach a girl and kiss her. She can fight back with her whip.
Because the guys did not kiss the girls, it was girls' turn to chase and beat them.
Bürkütchü. Eagle-handler.
The French and Kyrgyz teams then competed in a game of horseball. The French team, in pink, won the game.
This is me in an Afghan hat the I bought last week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, showing off again.