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Inevitably, Bakiyev wins reelection

More than half of the OSCE election observers criticized the vote counting in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyz villagers arrive at a polling station in a village Gornaya Mayevka, 19 miles east of the capital Bishkek, July 23, 2009. Kyrgyzstan's main opposition candidate Almazbek Atambayev withdrew from Thursday's presidential election as polling was under way, denouncing what he called mass voter fraud and demanding a re-run. (Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev stormed to a victory with a whopping 85 percent of the vote this week, in an election that opposition politicians and international observers said was massively marred by fraud.

The question is: Should anyone be surprised?

But the future is uncertain in this ex-Soviet nation, which just weeks ago signed a multimillion-dollar base agreement with the United States, and confronts possible Islamic unrest in its south.

The July 23 presidential vote had an air of inevitability about it, and followed a well-worn routine for anyone who has followed electoral processes in the former Soviet Union.

First, media outlets, especially television, weighted their coverage heavily to the incumbent. Bakiyev likewise enjoyed an expansive election war chest, and seemed to benefit from a savvy campaign fine-tuned by foreign consultants.

The opposition meanwhile struggled to find a voice and squabbled among itself for a period. Opposition supporters were subjected to intimidation and harassment. In some cases it appears they were beaten up, and one died.

On election day the fraud was omnipresent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main body monitoring the vote with more than 200 observers, said that the process was marked with “obstruction and intimidation” and fostered “an atmosphere of distrust” which “undermined … genuine democratic elections.” More than half of the OSCE observers criticized the vote counting that they observed.

Bakiyev’s camp declared a great victory, while the Central Election Commission dismissed the violations, or else said that it would investigate. Opposition leaders, including the main anti-government candidate Almazbek Atambayev, for their part called the vote illegitimate even while people were still voting, and said that they would stage a series of protests. So far, the country is quiet however, and the opposition — forever divided and indecisive — seems uncertain of which path to take.

All this took place almost according to a pre-determined script.

“This is not really a real election,” one Western elections expert in Bishkek, who asked to remain anonymous for the sensitivity of the issue, said on the eve of the contest. “What is painful for me is the pretending game among everyone involved.”

Bakiev conducted another heavily criticized vote in 2007 when his Ak Zhol party swept nearly all seats in parliament, and his main contender, Ata Meken, was locked out of the legislature due to an electoral technicality, despite evidence that it polled as well, if not better, than the ruling party.