A Glitch in the System: another controversial parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan4 min read
On 28 November, Kyrgyzstan made a second attempt at electing a new parliament after the failure of the last elections in October last year, whose results were met with widespread protests and ultimately annulled. After proof of corruption during the last election was released, many were concerned about how the following elections would be run. Unfortunately, a technical glitch has led many to feel justified in their suspicions. Many opposition leaders have begun protesting the recent elections, while government officials defend their claims that there was no tampering this time. As we wait for the final results, mounting evidence shows that this election might have been successful after all.
Since last year’s failed elections, there have been many sweeping changes in Kyrgyzstan. The first was a complete restructuring of the Kyrgyz Supreme Council in April 2021 by referendum, reducing the number of seats from 120 to 9. The second was the implementation of a split voting system, prompting voters to choose one of 21 parties followed by one of 54 candidates. This new system led to mass confusion at the polls, and may have contributed to the need for repeat elections in two districts of Bishkek. However, the confusing ballots were not the only major hiccup on election day.
During a televised report on incoming ballot results, the screen suddenly went black. When the results returned a few minutes later, the new numbers were significantly lower than before. This change hit the opposition parties the hardest as they went from passing the 5% voting threshold needed to gain entry to parliament to suddenly just falling short. However, it is worth noting that the change also affected pro-government parties, who lost a significant number of votes. This abrupt change led to many crying foul. In response, President Sadyr Japarov quickly released a statement declaring that those opposed are welcome to count the ballots manually and, if any tampering is found, those involved would “answer with their heads”.
In the wake of the incident, several domestic and foreign institutions have weighed in on what happened during the elections. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) claims that there were no impediments to the democratic process and that the results were more likely the result of the drastically low voter turnout of 34%. The European Union has backed this evaluation but has also stated that there is a need for further investigation into the glitch. The response from local authorities, however, has been a little more divisive; some claim the system was hacked, while others believe it was the result of a mistake made by an employee. This initial variety in explanations given by government officials has left many questioning the validity of their statements.
In reaction to the change in the results, dozens of protestors gathered outside the Central Election Commission building in Bishkek on 29 November. Since then, the opposition parties that were left out of parliament have been very vocal with their complaints about the election. Among the most active is the Ata-Meken party led by Omurbek Tekebaev, who did not receive enough votes to take any seats despite earlier numbers suggesting the party had met the threshold. Although the government launched a manual recount of ballots, the party has continued to call for a complete annulment of the results and new elections.
On 1 December, hundreds of members from various opposition groups had planned to meet to discuss the election. While on route to join, Tekebaev was attacked. By his estimate, a group of around 70 people approached him — stealing both his glasses and wallet — in what he believes to be a retaliation against his opposition to the election which saw great wins for parties supporting the Japarov regime. Tekebaev has a history of criticizing Japarov, even before he was elected as president. His lawyer has tried to support this claim by showing that the stolen phone was taken somewhere close to the State Committee for National Security in an attempt to try to connect the attack to state authorities. While there is still no concrete evidence that this attack was politically motivated, it has added more fuel to the opposition’s fire.
Since the official manual recount has begun, it appears that the numbers shown after the glitch were the correct results. However, the official results will not be announced until at least 18 December. Until then it remains to be seen how the opposition will react if it is confirmed they did not secure any seats. It does not seem unfathomable that there will still be doubts about the final result, especially when considering the other issues with the election. Despite this, it is becoming evident that the opposition is unlikely to have their demands for another round met this time.