From Central Asia to Moscow, Congrats on an Election
- Written by David Trilling, Eurasianet.org
CENTRAL AISA, Jan. 2 (Eurasianet.org) - In a well-honed quid pro quo, the compliments came pouring into the Kremlin on December 5 and 6: As protestors in Moscow denounced parliamentary elections, Russia’s friends in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group of former Soviet republics, sent congratulatory messages to the country’s ruling tandem -- Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin.
As a rule, Russia’s allies in Central Asia don’t challenge the Kremlin on domestic elections. In return, they expect the same courtesy, and several regional clubs dutifully sign off on local poll results, no matter what outsiders say.
Observers with the CIS Election Monitoring Organization declared the December 4 State Duma election free and fair, saying it met “recognized democratic standards.” Central Asian leaders, including Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov sent notes of congratulations. In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambayev, who came to power on a pro-Russia platform this fall, issued boilerplate praise: “I am sure that the policy declared by you will take the country to a new level of socio-economic and international relations, which will start a new stage of Russia's development.” An advisor to Tajik President Imomali Rahmon said he saw nothing extraordinary in the protests that followed the vote, when tens of thousands of Russians called the United Russia party’s 49.3-percent victory a fraud and demanded a revote.
The West had a different reaction. The election observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote was rigged to favor Putin’s ruling party.
But talking around OSCE assessments, usually negative in post-Soviet countries, has become a kind of art in Central Asia. When offering congratulations, local political elites simply seek to help each other maintain the status quo, said MP Ravshan Jeenbekov, deputy head of the Ata-Meken party in Kyrgyzstan. The happy talk is especially loud when it comes to the delicate relationship with Russia.
“Central Asian leaders are very dependent on Russia’s leadership. Even when falsification has taken place in a Russian election. Unfortunately, our president and other presidents in Central Asia must congratulate the leaders in Russia,” Jeenbekov told EurasiaNet.org.
CIS monitors have a history of endorsing elections. In 2005, the CIS team called Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary vote free, fair and well-organized, while the OSCE said it was marred by “significant shortcomings,” including “widespread vote-buying.” Within weeks, angry protestors -- indignant over the “stolen” elections -- chased President Askar Akayev from power.