Kyrgyzstan held very important parliamentary elections yesterday and the voting was peaceful. The story is changing by the hour, but the Central Asian nation is awaiting the results and holding its breath, as some are predicting more (and widespread) protests if the results seem less than fair. Early results suggest that up to two-thirds of the seats will be need to be decided in run-off elections. This probably doesn't bode well for preventing more protests. We'll see.
The big question in all this is whether the new parliament will be inclined to change the constitution so that current president Askar Akayev can run again (he denies he really wants this, but he's not trustworthy). There have been protests already (as our very own Charles Bird pointed to yesterday, and, as Charles noted, Registan has been following very closely) as Kyrgyz citizens protested the government's exclusion of some opposition candidates.
Unfortunately, the elections in bordering Tajikistan have already been declared a failure by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE):
Peter Eicher, OSCE mission chief, who had 130 observers watching the poll in the former Soviet republic, said his monitors noted improbably high turnout figures and election fraud.
"I regret to say that the overall process was a disappointment," he told a news conference. "We witnessed direct falsification. The extent of these irregularities does raise doubts about the integrity of the tabulation process."
The OSCE gave the Kyrgyz elections slightly higher marks, but still cited problems:
"These elections were more competitive than previous ones, but sadly this was undermined by vote buying, de-registration of candidates, interference with media and a worryingly low confidence in judicial and electoral institutions on the part of voters and candidates," said Kimmo Kiljunen, Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation and appointed by the OSCE Chairman in Office as the Special Co-ordinator of the short-term observers.
Longtime readers may recall that my partner is Kyrgyz. Having grown up in the Soviet Union (where elections were a joke), he doesn't share my sense that vigilance can make a difference here. He expects Akayev to cheat (and change the constitution or insert a member of his family into the presidency when that election takes place in the fall), and he thinks the protests will not change much except to get a lot of people hurt. I don't share his pessimism and really hope the general attitude about the importance of voting has changed in the years he hasn't lived there. We'll see.