more election thoughts

Exciting times to be in Bishkek?

Before delving into the wonderful world of basic statistics in my political research methods class this morning, the professor led a small discussion about yesterday’s elections. So far the results show that Ata-Jurt (Ата-журт), the party of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev, leads with the most votes.

The class groaned when they heard this. Several girls squealed “Nooo!” as if they’d broken the heel on their stiletto.

But… here’s what I find strange about Kyrgyzstan’s election system. There are thresholds that a party must meet to be eligible for seats in the parliament; they have to gain a certain percentage of national votes as well as a certain percentage in each region. The reason for this, my professor explained, is to ensure that the parliament only includes parties with national appeal.

Seems to make sense, but there were 29 parties running in this election. Twenty-nine! As an apathetic American who couldn’t even vote between two parties, this stuns me. Stuns.

With 90-some percent of the votes counted, it appears that only five parties made the cut to gain seats. All together these five parties only make up about 37% of total votes.

And there’s the problem. A vast majority of the votes are simply thrown out. I thought my vote in the U.S. was useless, but this just seems silly. When newspapers say that the party of the ousted regime received the most votes, what they mean is that they got somewhere between eight and nine percent.

I asked my professor if he thinks there is any possibility of an Iran-like situation, where the politically vocal Bishkekians protest the success of Ata-Jurt, despite the fact that party still has (relatively) wide support in the southern parts of the country.

He said that’s something a foreign journalist would say… Bishkekians and others who don’t support Ata-Jurt might disagree with their representation, but there will not be any violence because of it.

Overall, he seemed optimistic. He’s looking forward to the coming negotiations to form a coalition government, which he says will force the five parties to compromise and work together. He also guesses that Ata-Jurt will end up forming the majority coalition and will have the prime minister position.

We’ll see. I’m hoping that international media will stay on this topic long enough for me to get a good English-language analysis of the results. Although, from the media I’ve seen so far, I’ll try to stay away from U.S.-based sources, because I highly doubt that these elections will have much of an impact on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan (looking at you, USA Today…)