For Kyrgyzstan’s post-regime-change parliamentary election, I again served as an accredited international election observer in a two-member team with a local volunteer for the National Democratic Institute, funded by USAID. We were responsible for the Talas valley, an agricultural region in the northwest. Twenty-seven parties ran in the ballot, with those earning over 5% of the voting population entering parliament. Turnout was a bit over 50%, thus, only 5 parties mustered that amount. All of them are led by former high government officials, and differ little on ideology. The voting I observed was generally free, though not without problems.
The below excerpt is from my report to NDI. The full report is available on request.
Our team personally witness no serious violations of the country’s election law. In many precincts, voting was conducted in a rather orderly fashion. The vote count that we observed was particularly well-organized and transparent. New committee members and leaders, particularly those who had been appointed in the last 18 months, were consistently more transparent and cooperative in their work. Observers in some precincts were active and effective. We were provided with a written and stamped copy of the protocol, which matches exactly the protocol published online by the Central Election Committee.
Notable administrative and procedural errors were observed at nearly every polling station. Voters complained of being absent from the voter list in many locations, including those with invitation cards, though the extent of the problem was difficult to calculate without hard data. In a few stations, more severe problems were observed. Inking and verification procedures were not correctly followed, and ink was easily removed by voters. Some voters even complained about this to the committee. At one precinct, the Chairwoman was dictatorial and suspicious of our role, demanding a to make a copy of our passports. She was resistant to my request to place the safe in plain sight, as is required by law. At an entirely Uzbek precinct, a Kyrgyz government official sat between the Chairwoman and Secretary, as if to monitor their activities. Far too many unauthorized individuals populated precincts throughout our observation. Voter intimidation by some of these individuals can not be ruled out, though we had no evidence to prove it either.
Observers from independent civil society organizations were too often passive and/or incapable of fulfilling their duties. Obvious deficiencies in procedures were ignored. There were no independent observers in about 4 of 10 stations. Coalition observers were generally young women, who did not assert their authority or role. Their responses to our questions were anodyne – “everything is going fine”. Party observers were largely disengaged. Only one observer, for Atambayev, made a complaint about the voter list problems and suggested it was an organized conspiracy, however, she provided little evidence to support this and eventually conceded the problems may indeed be unintended errors.