Election officials in Kyrgyzstan must whittle down a field of more than 80 presidential hopefuls before a contest that analysts say could expose divisions between the north and south of the volatile Central Asian state. The Central Election Commission said on Tuesday that 83 people, including 67 independent candidates, had applied to run in the Oct 30 presidential election, the culmination of constitutional reforms introduced after last year’s revolution.
After nearly two decades of authoritarian rule that ended with the overthrow of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, Kyrgyzstan is attempting to entrench the first parliamentary democracy in a region otherwise run by presidential strongmen. The new model of government makes parliament the main decision-making body and gives the prime minister more power than the president in the impoverished nation of 5.4 million, which hosts both Russian and US military air bases.
The election commission has until Sept 25 to determine which candidates will be allowed to run. The list of pretenders includes unemployed people, scientists, retired army and police officers, businessmen and journalists. Many of the hopefuls are likely to fall foul of requirements to present at least 30,000 signatures, make a deposit worth around $2,200 and pass a Kyrgyz language test in the former Soviet state where Russian is still the first language for many. “What we are seeing is apparent grandstanding and one-man shows,” said Moscow-based Central Asia expert Arkady Dubnov. “They want to show that Kyrgyzstan is a country of people’s democracy but they may end up laughing at themselves.”
President Roza Otunbayeva has run Kyrgyzstan since Bakiyev was ousted, but according to the constitutional changes implemented by her government, her mandate expires on Dec 31. She will not stand again. Kyrgyzstan borders economic powerhouse China and lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. The 2010 revolution was followed by violent clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that killed more than 400 people in the south. Two decades after its independence from the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan remains culturally and ethnically divided. In the much poorer south of the country, where central government has only a tenuous grip on power, radical Islam is on the rise.