Kyrgyzstan: election campaign in Uzbek fueling tensions

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A large part of the population of the city of Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, being represented by the ethnic Uzbek community, disseminating at least some of the advertising material in Uzbek before this month’s legislative elections looks like politics 101.

The city’s first candidate to produce campaign material in three languages ​​- Kyrgyz, Russian and Uzbek – was Sherzod Sabirov, who is running with the new El Umutu, or People’s Hope, party.

Sabirov’s attempt to broaden his electoral appeal, however, met with talkative outrage, underlining how inter-communal tensions are likely to be exploited. Osh was the epicenter of ethnic violence in 2010 which left hundreds of people dead, mostly Uzbeks.

“We live in Kyrgyzstan. The main ethnic community in this country is the Kyrgyz people. This means that all signs and names of shops, as well as electoral material, must be written in the state language, ”Kalmurza Mamatkadyrov, 48, from Osh, told Eurasianet.

While Kyrgyz and Russian are the two official languages ​​in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbek is not and should not enjoy the same status in society, Mamatkadyrov said, echoing a widely expressed view.

A photo of Sabirov on his Facebook page.

Sabirov, 35, an ethnic Uzbek businessman, is dismayed by the fury, but he suspects that there may be more to the outrage than it seems. He says that despite his party’s brief history, his apparent popularity scares his rivals.

“El Umutu is a real cutthroat for them because we will undoubtedly take some of their voices away from them. That is why they resorted to such nasty measures, going so far as to smear me just because I spoke to Uzbek voters in my meetings with them, ”Sabirov told Eurasianet. “They are afraid that members of our young party will tell the truth and open people’s eyes. “

Sabirov said people in any country have the full right to speak in any language they want and there is no law against it.

Indeed, in previous elections, such as the failed parliamentary elections last October, other parties used Uzbek advertising material without causing any scandal. The same is happening now.

“Besides us, there are other parties, like Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan, which use Uzbek, but no one is outraged by this for any reason,” Sabirov said.

The main allegation circulating in nationalist Kyrgyz-speaking social media circles is that an election poster featuring Sabirov violates the law. Critics of his campaign materials have gone so far as to reach out to election officials.

“We were approached by a group of Osh residents who provided campaign material in Uzbek belonging to the El Umutu party and they demanded that action be taken against the candidate in question,” said Bakyt Almatov, leader. of the Territorial Election Commission of Osh. Eurasianet.

Almatov said the rules require them to forward the complaint to law enforcement bodies, which in turn must determine whether the poster is in fact illegal.

But since the original accusation was so false, the whole affair quickly took its course.

Interior Ministry spokesman Zamir Sydykov said the police had nothing to do as no known offenses had been committed.

“We don’t have the power to punish anyone for it or to take other action,” Sydykov said in an interview with Eurasianet.

However, human rights activists are still concerned about these developments, viewing them as proof that inter-ethnic intolerance is still being deployed for back door political ends, even though the country’s laws offer some degree of formal protection. to minorities.

Utkir Jabbarov, a lawyer for Spravedlivost, an advocacy group based in the southern town of Jalal-Abad, reiterated that there was nothing in Kyrgyz law that prevented politicians from using language that pleased them.

“Our laws stipulate that the Kyrgyz Republic guarantees representatives of all ethnic groups in Kyrgyzstan the right to preserve their mother tongue, to create the conditions for its study and development, and, therefore, to use it in campaigns. policies, ”Jabbarov said.

That the ethnic card be played attests to the cruelty with which the political battle is being waged as the November 28 ballot approaches. The number of seats in the next legislature will be only 90, compared to 120 currently. With the threshold thus raised, the competition is more desperate.

“The less time left before the legislative elections, the more opponents resort to dirty political strategies and slander themselves by all kinds of techniques. Sometimes this can take the form of a reference to the ethnicity of the candidates, ”political scientist Mars Sariyev told Eurasianet. “All of this creates a lot of tension. “


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