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Central Asia: Breaking the 100% Barrier

17 Feb

Presidents in Central Asia have been striving over the past 25 years to break through the mythical 100% of the popular vote threshold in elections. Once believed to be mathematically impossible, experts now think that with advances in technology the day may soon come when politicians can exceed 100% of the vote.

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Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov romped to victory once again with 97.69% of the vote

“As we have seen in recent elections in Central Asia, the incumbents are getting ever closer to the magical figure of 100%. Most recently, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov picked up 97.69% of the vote in Turkmenistan’s elections, held on 12 February,” Lord Venal, a seasoned Central Asian election observer told kazaxia.

“And this was bettered in Kazakhstan in 2015 when President Nursultan Nazarbayev got 97.75%. So, yes, we could soon see the barrier being broken.”

Advances in fixing the vote has meant that scoring more than 100% should not be a problem in the future.

“Ballot stuffing, vote stealing, carousel voting – we’ve all seen these methods used over the years and these methods are becoming more sophisticated. Why not stuff in more votes than there are registered voters, it’s entirely possible,” Gary Kefali, a politics guru told kazaxia.

However, time may be against Nazarbayev – at 76 he may not have too many more chances at growing his vote beyond 98%. Berdimuhamedov, by contrast, is a relative youngster at only 59 and so he could have many more goes at reaching the Holy Grail of electoral success.

Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan’s incumbents offer the best hopes of breaching 100%. Relative newcomer, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan picked up 88.61% in 2016.  Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon grabbed only 83.92% of the vote in 2013. In Kyrgyzstan, President Almazbek Atambaev is a long way off as he got a measly 63.2% in 2011, and he won’t be running again anyway.

“President Nazarbayev should be up for election [in 2020?] before President Berdimuhamedov, and I foresee officials doing their utmost to make him the first leader ever to exceed 100% of the popular vote,” Venal concluded.

Castro Provokes Central Asian Personality Cult Crisis

11 Dec

In its first move, the Association of Traditional Rulers has condemned the
late Cuban leader Fidel Castro for “failing to take seriously his
responsibilities as leader, in death as in life”.

The newly-formed Association unites Central Asia’s presidents – Gurbanguly
Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Emomali
Rahmon of Tajikistan and Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, together with
candidate member Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan.

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Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev immortalised in an Almaty park

The Association pointed with regret to remarks at Fidel Castro’s funeral by
his brother and current leader Raul Castro that no monuments, institutions
or streets would be named after the late leader. Nor would statues and busts
be erected in his honour.

“The leader of the revolution strongly opposed any manifestation of cult of
personality,” said Raul Castro.

“The Association upholds the clear duty of all responsible leaders to accept
the burdens of office that history has thrust upon them,” a brief statement
from the Association declared. “Fidel Castro – in his dying wish – has
betrayed that trust.”

The Association insisted that a presidential personality “was not the
property of one lone individual, but belongs to the entire nation,
encapsulating, defining and leading that nation’s very essence, for all
eternity”. It termed any rejection of that lofty responsibility as
“selfishness”.

Central Asia’s leaders have graciously taken on themselves the burden of
having streets, towns or universities named after them, the Association
pointed out, and allowing statues of themselves or their ancestors to
inspire their populations in visible locations. They have also acceded to
popular requests to have portraits of themselves in schools, offices and
other locations.

The Association does however credit the late Cuban leader with adhering to
at least one of the standards of traditional rulers. “Fidel Castro did not
absolve himself of the responsibility to ensure that his close relatives –
and his mistresses – also selflessly took on the burdens of senior
government positions.”

Kokpar Scandal Rocks World Nomad Games

12 Sep

The first edition of the World Nomad Games, currently being held in Kyrgyzstan, have been rocked by scandal as Kazakhstan refused to send a team to compete in kokpar, the fast and furious horseback sport akin to polo but played with a headless goat carcass.

Its absence will be felt at these games as last September Kazakhstan became the first ever Asian champions of the sport when it defeated fierce rivals Kyrgyzstan 4-2 in the final held in Kazakhstan’s snazzy capital Astana.

kazaxia took to twitter to determine why Kazakhstan hadn’t sent a team to the games in Kyrgyzstan. One observer, Edil Baisalov, noted that the Kazakhs “insist on a different set of rules” which they claim were “adopted at the Asian championship in Astana last year”.

The other countries disagreed with this version of events, Baisalov added.

Kokpar,  better known as ‘buzkashi’ in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, is not a sport traditionally hidebound by rules.  In the past kokpar games were a free-for-all that could last for hours.

Now, seeking to appeal to a wider audience and the television market, there have been suggestions that the sport be regulated with two 45-minute halves and restrictions on team sizes.

The version played in Afghanistan has been suggested as an international model with rules developed by the Afghan Olympic Federation. These rules suggest that:

For championship Buzkashi in Kabul, teams are limited to ten riders each. Five players take the field during the first 45 minutes of play; the other five compete during the second period. A field master presides over the match and has the authority to prolong the game and grant permission for a change of riders or horses. The halftime break lasts for 15 minutes.

The World Nomad Games, being held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, by the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, brings together competitors from countries with a nomadic tradition for a six-day festival of traditional sports. The games culminate on 14 September.

Besides kokpar, the sports include horse races, wrestling on horse back, contact sports based on wrestling, eagle hunting, and the more cerebral ordo, and toguz korgool, a board game related to mankala.  For more information on these sports, check out here.

Russia to Quit Eurasian Economic Union?

30 May

After Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan inked the Eurasian Economic Union treaty in Astana yesterday, observers have started to question whether the treaty is valid by raising concerns over territorial issues.

Lord Venal told kazaxia that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in March, widely condemned by the international community, could result in complications for the fledgling economic union.

And then there were two?

“Kazakhstan has insisted that Armenia will be allowed to join this exclusive club only if it does so within its internationally-recognised borders thus excluding the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Lord Venal told kazaxia.

“This decision could have serious implications for Russia as it has illegally-occupied sovereign Ukrainian land. This could mean Crimea being excluded from the Union or even Russia having to leave the bloc,” he continued.

This would leave Belarus and Kazakhstan as the leading lights of Eurasian integration. The possible inclusion of Armenia and Kyrgyzstan would be unlikely to make up for the loss of Russia’s economic clout.

Abkhazia, a largely unrecognised breakaway region of Georgia, has also been mooted as a potential member. Doctor Gött, of the Gött Institute of Serious Thinking (GIST) thought it highly improbable that Abkhazia would be able to join the union.

“It’s not even a real country, is it?” he told kazaxia. “The actual details of the [Eurasian Economic Union] treaty have not been made public but I’m sure there’s no provision for including pretend countries”.

Doctor Gött suggested that if Russia were to be kicked out and these other countries (even pretend ones) were allowed in then KABAK (marrow or courgette) could be a suitable acronym for the grouping.

Moscow: Eurasian Economic Union Name Dispute Rumbles on

8 May

More top-level meetings are taking place in Moscow as the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan talk with other possible member states about the expanding Eurasian Economic Union project. The sides are believed to be trying to come up with an acronym for the regional grouping.

Kazakhstan is said to favour KRB while Belarus is said to be leaning towards BRK. Russia has proposed Armenia be fast-tracked into the fledgling economic union to bring a much-needed vowel to the possible acronyms. Kazaxia likes the sound of BARK, other observers are keen on KRAB.

This ‘A’ is a significant development as ‘U’ is currently off the agenda as it doesn’t look like Ukraine or Uzbekistan will be joining any time soon, and Azerbaijan won’t join anything that involves its arch rival Armenia.

Further complications could be on the horizon as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are possible contenders for membership. It is not clear where these letters would go. Syria is an outside bet for inclusion in this intercontinental economic club – an ‘S’ is always useful, as any scrabble player knows.

Kazakhstan: Not Like the Other “Stans”?

11 Feb

Following the worldwide media frenzy that resulted from President Nazarbayev’s impromptu remark about changing Kazakhstan’s name to Kazak Yeli/Qazaq Eli, kazaxia has decided to investigate claims that Kazakhstan is essentially different to the other “stans”  and should drop the “stan”  (Editor’s note: What’s wrong with Kazaxia as a new name for the country? ).

Just how different is Kazakhstan to its Central Asian neighbours? Let’s look at some key areas:

Politics – in the political sphere Kazakhstan shares some common ground with Uzbekistan in that it has only had one president since becoming independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. However, it is different to Turkmenistan, which is on its second incumbent, Tajikistan, which is also on number two and Kyrgyzstan, now on number four.

Leader popularity – there is a clear difference here as Kazakhstan is  only one of two “stans” where the president scored more than 95% of the popular vote in the last presidential election. President Nazarbayev was re-elected with a whopping 95.55% of the vote in 2011. Turkmenistan’s President Berdymukhamedov topped that with 97% in 2012 In contrast,  Uzbekistan’s President Karimov got 90.76% in 2007,,  Tajikistan’s President Rahmon received only 86.9% of the vote in 2013 and Kyrgyzstan’s President Atambayev trails in last place with a mere 63.2% in 2011.

Dealing with unsanctioned public protestkazaxia has spotted some differences in dealing with participants in unsanctioned public protests between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In the most recent cases, four bloggers have been arrested in Kazakhstan – at the time of writing three have been imprisoned, a fourth, Dina Baidildayeva, is on trial on February 12 and could face some time inside. So that makes 75%. In Uzbekistan eight protesters were arrested for holding an illegal rally outside the Ukranian embassy – three were given 15-day jail terms. So that makes 37.5%.

President Nazarbayev, speaking at a meeting with cultural figures, where he was asked about changing the country’s name, in Atyrau on February 6, cited  Mongolia (which, of course,  has no “stan” ) as an example of a country that “foreigners show interest” in. Mongolia is unusual in Central Asian countries in that is an island of freedom in a sea of not-free countries, according to this infographic from Freedom House. 

So, we can conclude that Kazakhstan sure is different form its neighbours, but whether matters will be helped by a name change is up for debate.

Turkic Body Talk

13 Sep

Here’s an interesting image from last month’s meeting of the Turkic Council in Azerbaijan. Look who’s holding centre stage – yes, it’s none other than Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Paying rapt attention to the elder statesman of Turkic politics are Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his bespectacled friend. Turkey’s President Abdullah Gül looks on bemused as the others chat away, presumably, in Russian. Kazaxia’s favourite is the uncomfortable looking guy on the far left – Turkmenistan’s Vice-President Sapardurdi Toylıyev, who appears to be to nervous to catch anyone’s eye less he get into trouble back in Ashgabat.

Turkic Council not effective due to conflicting interests