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KYRGYZSTAN: Interview with OSCE Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj - OCHA IRIN
Thursday 17 February 2005
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KYRGYZSTAN: Interview with OSCE Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


OSCE Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj

BISHKEK, 14 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Following recent pro-democracy victories in Ukraine and Georgia, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has publicly warned that unrest of any sort would be met with the full force of the military, a strong sign of his concern of some kind of "orange revolution" in his own country.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 February, Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who also heads the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission, shared with IRIN his insight into Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections and his views on his role as an international observer of the event.

QUESTION: What is the purpose of your mission?

ANSWER: The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission was invited by the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to observe the parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 February 2005. The mission consists of 12 international experts deployed in Bishkek city. The team has a balanced country representation: four experts from Central Europe, four from CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] states and four from what you refer to as "western" countries. Besides the main team, 18 long-term observers work in all seven provinces of the Kyrgyz Republic, with two pairs settled in two major cities - Bishkek and Osh. The OSCE/ODIHR has requested 170 short-term observers from OSCE member countries. They should arrive a few days before election day.

Q: The OSCE/ODIHR declared that the 2000 presidential elections passed off with numerous violations of the law, condemning the election process as rigged. What lessons have the OSCE/ODIHR learned that will receive special attention in the upcoming parliamentary elections?

A: The OSCE/ODIHR has a much longer history from which it can take lessons. It has been observing elections for almost 14 years. There are many ways to falsify elections and the OSCE/ODIHR has considerable experience of uncovering such things. When I undertook my first training as a long-term observer I was surprised at how possible it was to identify fraud at election precincts even if one was not present on the spot at the moment it occurs.

I would not say the current election observation mission is guided only by the report of the 2000 presidential elections. Rather, our election observation methodology is well-developed and includes know-how from many elections observed throughout the OSCE area.

Q: What is your reaction to the fact that seven relatives of Akaev, including the president's daughter and son, have registered to run, while opposition candidates such as Roza Otunbaeva and other ex-envoys, are barred from the elections?

A: I wouldn't like to connect these two questions. We know that some relatives of President Akaev are candidates in the elections. There are no international or domestic provisions that would prevent relatives of the president or the prime minister from doing so. As long as they fulfil all the legal provisions and participate in a fair competition, then the voters will decide. That's one point.

As for the former ambassadors, we devoted quite a lot of attention to this situation. I spoke with the potential candidate-ambassadors, discussed it with the chairman of both chambers of parliament and government representatives. We are aware of the fact that there are different views. Being an ambassador myself, I do not consider it completely fair that they do not have the chance to be registered just because they served their country abroad. On the other hand, there are laws in this country and I think the law has to be respected. Of course, there should also be a possibility to initiate changes in the law.

Q: The Kyrgyz government press has accused some international organisations of exporting democracy and plotting a revolution in Kyrgyzstan. What is your response?

A: First of all, I have never heard any such accusations connected with the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission or the OSCE in Kyrgyzstan. I am sure the head of the OSCE Office in Bishkek would answer in the same way. Secondly, if such accusations were made, they would be completely false, because it would be in violation of our mandate. Our mandate is to observe how international standards are met during elections.

Q: Some people perceive using indelible ink for marking the thumbs of voters as a violation of their human rights. What is the attitude of the OSCE/ODIHR to such a marking system?

A: Well, such a procedure may be unpleasant, but it is only conducted to protect the votes of honest voters. I would compare it to a security check before you enter an aeroplane. That might not be pleasant either, but it protects passengers from potential danger.

Q: The Central Election Committee has banned the right to vote for Kyrgyz citizens staying abroad. Does that violate international standards for elections?

A: There are countries where people have to come to their respective constituencies in order to vote. I would not say that the absence of voting abroad in these particular elections can be considered a violation of international standards.

Q: According to unofficial data, 10 percent of people eligible to vote are in other countries.

A: I can imagine what problems the Central Election Committee would have with allocating respective constituencies to individual voters abroad. The situation would be different in case of a referendum or presidential elections with one national constituency.

Q: Why do the evaluations of OSCE/ODIHR election observers differ from those of CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] observers?

A: Answering directly, first of all, I should say that OSCE unites 55 participating states, including the CIS countries. Regarding the composition of our mission, it is well balanced. In the core team itself there are four representatives of CIS countries - from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Moldova.

Secondly, on why our analysis may be different, I would only speak about our mission. Unlike Mr Rushailo's [Vladimir Rushailo, chairman of the Executive Committee of the CIS] habit of commenting on our work, I do not want to assess the CIS election observation missions. We may have different approaches. Speaking about our mission, I'd like to say that we came to this country as any other, with good intentions, to help people and to promote democratic development in Kyrgyzstan.

We work professionally regardless of the political environment and give an impartial assessment of the entire election process. It is not important for us who wins or loses. Our main concern is for elections to be conducted in compliance with international standards, OSCE commitments and domestic laws. In any case we will stay neutral. Our experts are only interested in their professional duties and do not assist any of the sides in this election.

Q: Do you think that OSCE observers will have conclusions about the elections that would be different from the CIS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation observers?

A: I do not know yet. What I know is that our mission will work in good faith and in a professional manner. Even if there is criticism in our report, it will be constructive and our recommendations and any critical remarks will be given in good faith, taking into consideration the OSCE's interest to promote democratic processes in Kyrgyzstan.

Q: What are the expectations of candidates about the legitimacy of the forthcoming elections?

A: We spoke to a number of candidates and found out that many of them have rather low expectations of the electoral process. I am speaking not only about opposition candidates, but also of candidates close to the authorities. We noted that President Askar Akaev and other Kyrgyz authorities have called for fair and transparent elections. We take these statements very seriously. Now it will be interesting to see how officials in different places, in precinct and territorial election commissions, will conduct the election. There is also a low level of trust in the courts. This issue is of concern to us.

Q: You spoke to the electorate. What are their expectations about the approaching elections?

A: Yes, we talked with voters. Many voters' expectations are similar to those of candidates. They express low expectations regarding the election process. The authorities have a chance to convince the electorate that the elections will be conducted fairly and in a transparent way by fulfilling Kyrgyzstan's international commitment to fair elections.


Other recent KYRGYZSTAN reports:

Reducing cross-border water conflict,  9/Feb/05

Media censorship ahead of parliamentary poll,  8/Feb/05

Syrdarya flooding risk high in south,  8/Feb/05

Rights activist warns of election violence,  27/Jan/05

Review of 2004,  24/Jan/05

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

TOGO: ECOWAS has “fruitful” talks with president about return to democratic path, 16/Feb/05

SOMALIA: Ministers to explain new government policies in regions, 16/Feb/05

GAMBIA: Government announces dismissal of detained police chief, 16/Feb/05

SYRIA: City development under focus, 16/Feb/05

MOZAMBIQUE: IMF release proverty reduction loan, 16/Feb/05

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