Kyrgyz elections important step forward for democracy in Central Asia

Bishkek , Kyrgyzstan , 11 July 2005 - United Nations officials welcomed the peaceful conduct of the Presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan on Sunday that swept interim President Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev to victory by an overwhelming majority. Bakiyev assumed leadership of Kyrgyzstan following popular protests that forced his predecessor, Askar Akayev to flee the country in March.

Tuigunaali D. Abdaimov, chairman of the Central Election Commission announced Monday that with more than three-quarters of the ballots tallied from 95 percent of the districts, Bakiyev received nearly 89 percent of the vote. Bakiyev nearest rivals garnered less than 4 percent of the ballots counted, Mr. Adaimov said.

Despite some concerns over the transparency of the electoral process, foreign observers suggested today that Sunday's vote represented "tangible progress" in achieving international standards for freedom and fairness.

In partnership with others in the international community, UNDP has provided support to help Kyrgyzstan meet international standards for free and fair elections, including extensive voter education efforts through the national media and political party training programs. The UNDP Country Office in Bashkek has taken the lead in organizing civic awareness programs and working with international and local NGOs to highlight the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship for all Kyrgyzstanis.

The importance of UNDP's capacity building efforts in setting the stage for Sunday's successful election were reflected in reports from international observers. "Fundamental civil and political rights, such as the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly, were generally respected, and the improved media environment provided the field of candidates with opportunities to present their views," an observer team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Parliament concluded in an initial assessment released Monday.

"Preliminary reports indicate that the elections were held in a credible manner and with strengthened commitment to upholding international standards," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said through a spokesman today. "The holding of these elections is an important step in the consolidation of political institutions in Kyrgyzstan."

In fact, Sunday's elections were widely understood as an important test for Kyrgyzstan's young democracy, underscoring the importance of a stable democratic transition not just for Kyrgyzstan but for all of Central Asia.

"Everybody is looking at Kyrgyzstan as a kind of testing ground for showing that democratic, free and fair elections are possible in Central Asia," Jerzy Skuratowicz, the United Nations resident coordinator said from Bishkek.

UNDP has been an active partner in the development of democratic institutions in Kyrgyzstan since coordinating international support for elections there in 1995. UNDP has also sent Russian speaking UN Volunteers from Kyrgyzstan to serve as election observes throughout the former Soviet Union over the past fifteen years, many of whom brought their experience and expertise home over the weekend.

Senior United Nations officials predicted that this weekend's results bring about positive change throughout Central Asia. "A successful election in Kyrgyzstan will contribute greatly to political stability throughout the region, which is essential for Central Asia's long-term development," said Kalman Mizsei, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP's Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). "Central Asia will flourish only if countries of the region co-operate with one another and encourage the free movement of people, of goods, and of knowledge among themselves, with their neighbors, and with the rest of the world."

Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - is the focus of intense international attention because of its geopolitical importance and economic potential. Recent outbreaks of violence in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have underscored the danger that political instability could jeopardize progress towards development and poverty alleviation in the region, but following Sunday's experience, UNDP officials are hopeful that Kyrgyzstan will become a model for success democratic governance and economic development.

For further information, including interviews with Jerzy Skuratowicz or Kalman Mizsei please contact Olga Grebennikova (Bishkek) at tel: 996-312-611-213 or 996-502-512-299 or Gulden Turkoz-Cosslett (NY) at 212-906-5761 or 914-907-8816.

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