Upcoming Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan

I am in Bishkek, Kygyzstan, serving as a short term observer to the upcoming Kyrgyz Republic Presidential election.  This is my first time in Central Asia, and I am trying to absorb the culture, language, and politics all at once.

A few other details that may be of interest to our readership.  The party system is highly fractionalized, more so than any system I am familiar with.  In the most recent parliamentary elections in October 2010, the top five parties (all of which won seats–there is a 5% national threshold for representation) garnered only 37% of the vote.  There are nearly 100 political parties, many of which are highly personalistic.

A brief description of the 2011 presidential contest is here; 83 candidates were nominated by parties or were self-nominated and 23 are on the ballot.  General information on their election system can be found at IFES.

3 have withdrawn since the ballots were printed, and rather than reprinting, the precinct election commission (PEC) members are supposed to manually ink over the names and the box on each ballot.  That will be interesting to watch on election day.

Finally, I am a first timer at election observation.  Perhaps that is why I have been deployed to Balykchy, a town of 40,000 people onIssyk Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world.  The town is apparently so-so but the area absolutely beautiful.

The most recent treatment of politics in this region is a book by Eric McGlinchey, Chaos, Violence, and Dynasty (Pittsburgh Press, 2011).  McGlinchey’s primary thesis is that previous democratization efforts in the region have been a failure, and that a better way to understand the politics is to acknowledge that these are neo-patriomonial authoritarian regimes, and instead focus on why one country displays violence (Uzbekistan), another dynasty (Kazakhstan) and finally chaos (Kyrgyzstan).   The formal modeling part of the book adapts the “selectorate” model of  Bueno de Mesquita, Smith, Siverson, and Morrow, but adapts it to the unique circumstances of these three cases.

I’m not sure I completely agree with the book at present, although I have to defer to the author’s decade of experience in the region.  In particular, I am more sanguine about the potential for democratic development in Kyrgyzstan, and I think the author’s own data show this somewhat.

This may be a glass half full / half empty interpretation, and I can certainly understand how someone swept up in the optimism of the 1990s could be disappointed by the reversals of this decade.  Second, I am not sure “chaos” is the right term to describe a regime where the last two presidential terms have been ended by popular “coups”, but also generally peaceful coups.  Are we to prefer the stability of a highly authoritarian regime like Kazakhstan to the more open yet “chaotic” Kyrgyzstan?  The book seems to lean in that direction at points.  Overall, though, a highly recommended reading if you want to learn more about this important part of the world.