Kyrgyz vote loser calls off protest rallies

November 4, 2011 - 10:15 AM
Kyrgyzstan Presidential elections

Almazbek Atambayev speaks to press in Bishkek on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. Kyrgyzstan presidential election winner Almazbek Atambayev's moment of glory was soured Monday by a stinging assessment from international vote monitors and news of protests in the turbulent south of the country. (AP Photo/Vladimir voronin)

JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — The most vocal opponent of Kyrgyzstan presidential election winner Almazbek Atambayev said Friday that he would refrain from holding mass rallies to protest the vote, dispelling fears of renewed public disturbances in the turbulent Central Asian nation.

Defeated presidential candidate and nationalist leader Kamchibek Tashiyev said he would not allow supporters to seize state buildings, a strategy that has been used before by hardened government opponents.

Atambayev won more than 60 percent of votes in Sunday's election, easily besting Tashiyev and another rival, Adakhan Madumarov.

The prospect of a smooth hand-over of power from outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva, a former diplomat who took power in April 2010 after the overthrow of former leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev in a public uprising, to Atambayev will come as relief to the international community.

The U.S. has an air base in Kyrgyzstan that provides vital logistical support for NATO in Afghanistan. Russia also has a base in the former Soviet republic.

By garnering more than half the ballots cast, Atambayev avoided having to face his southern rivals in a second-round runoff — a prospect that some had feared could ignite long-standing north-south tensions.

In the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad, Tashiyev supporters held relatively low-key rallies before dispersing. With the Muslim feast of Kurban Ait coming up this weekend, public attention in the conservative south seems set to turn away from politics.

As losing candidates continue to allege widespread voting violations, discontent will likely fester among those who feel cheated of a fair result.

"This unhappiness will remain in people's hearts and minds," said Bokonbai Abdrasulov, a member of the Tashiyev support committee, speaking at a gathering of a few dozen demonstrators in the southern town of Jalal-Abad.

Several elderly men and women addressed a crowd holding placards and banners in support of Tashiyev on a chilly and gray Friday morning in front of Jalal-Abad's regional administration building, which was seized by Bakiyev supporters in May 2010 in a last-ditch show of local support for the ousted leader.

Political loyalties in Kyrgyzstan are often highly regional and clan-based, a trait that has frequently undermined the unity of the impoverished nation.

Kyrgyzstan earned international plaudits last year for holding a parliamentary election that was deemed to be the first ever free and fair contest in its post-independence history. That election was the first step on the country's tentative path toward developing into a more accountable parliamentary democracy as enshrined in a new constitution adopted last year.

But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were more critical of Sunday's election. Observers were particularly dismayed by the disarray caused by incomplete voter lists, which denied many the right to vote.

"The people are offended, so they have been holding meetings (over the past few days) to demand another election," said Turdumamat Mamytov, the coordinator for Tashiyev's nationalist Ata-Zhurt party in the town of Mailu-Suu.

More ominously, several people at the demonstration in Jalal-Abad accused authorities of removing ethnic Kyrgyz voters in the south from electoral rolls while allowing minority Uzbeks to cast their ballots. They argued that Uzbeks were more likely to vote for Atambayev than for the two nationalist candidates.

That accusation is particularly explosive in a town that was heavily affected by the ethnic violence that swept across southern Kyrgyzstan last summer. Around 470 people, mostly among the sizable ethnic Uzbek minority, were killed in the clashes across the south.