Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voting in Kyrgyzstan - like choosing a flavor at Baskin-Robins

Kyrgyzstan, like most of the former Soviet republics (and most nations, for that matter) doesn't do politics like America does.

With a multi-party political system that determines who will server in a parliamentary government, voting in Kyrgyzstan in like picking a flavor at Baskin-Robins: 57 political parties registered to participate in the election, and 29 managed to submit a list of candidates by the August 30 deadline.

In Kyrgyzstan, elections are conducted using a proportional representation system - you vote for a political party instead of a candidate, and the parties get to send representatives to Parliament based on how many votes the party got in the election.

Well, it's almost that simple...

Before a party gets to send members to Parliament, they have to meet a five percent threshold. That is, only parties that get at lease five percent of the vote (actually votes => 5% of the number of registered voters, regardless of how many people actually voted) get representation in Parliament.

Let's say there are 100 voters. A party only gets to send members to parliament if they get at least 5 votes; and that's tough to do with 29 parties on ballot...

Those parties that do get over five percent are then allocated seats in the 120 seat Parliament in proportion to how well they did (compared only to the other parties that broke the five percent threshold).

Let's say that in an election with 100 voters, only four of the 29 parties broke the five-percent threshold:

Party A got 5 votes
Party B got 6 votes
Party C got 8 votes
Party D got 11 votes

Among these parties, the allocation of the 120 seats in Parliament would be:

Party A gets 20 seats
Party B gets 24 seats
Party C gets 32 seats
Party D gets 44 seats

Of course, neither party has more than half (60) of the 120 seats, so at least two parties need to team-up to form a ruling coalition. In this case, there are four possible ways to form a majority: A+D, B+D, C+D, or A+B+C.

In the October 10 election, five parties broke the threshold - and none of them got enough votes to claim more than half of the seats in Parliament, so there's no "ruling party" to control things.

In fact, no two parties combined got enough votes to give them more then 50 percent of the seats in Parliament - so at least three of the winning five parties will have to form a coalition to make things work.

It make for a system of government that's much more dynamic than the American two-party system - though they do have the same post-election arguments that we do.

One party got 4.84 percent - just barely missing out on getting representation in Parliament.

As in America, they complained.

But unlike here, the five parties who "won" the election agreed to a recount!

Like I said - they don't do elections like we do...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign...

29 political parties competed for the 120 seats in the Kyrgyz Parliament during their election on October 10, 2010. Of them, a significant number ran aggressive and viable campaigns - just look at the variety of billboards and posters on display around Bishkek.

Everywhere in Bishkek, and in many of the rural towns and villages I traveled through, there were posters urging people to vote for the "Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan" or parties with names like "Fatherland," Motherland," "White Falcon," "United Kyrgyzstan," "Dignity," "Justice," "Generous People," and the "United People's Movement."

Most of the political campaigns act as vehicles for personality politics more than as instruments for public policy formation (sound familiar?) and many of the parties tend to focus on a single figure, or perhaps a small group of prominent party members. In many cases, loyalties are formed and maintained based on clan membership or business interests rather than "party politics." Many parties tend to have regional support bases, stronger in one part of the country or another just like American "red state/blue state" politics.

In some ways, political campaigning in Kyrgyzstan isn't too different than in America - people tend to vote the same way their family and closest friends vote, and the it's somewhat easy to predict which parties will do better in different regions or cities.

What's most different is the ballot - in Kyrgyzstan, the ballot has a list of political parties instead of candidates.

An even bigger difference is how the votes are tallied, and the "winners" determined - more on that later.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Home Again

Just a brief post to let everyone know that I'm back in Seattle after a great election observation mission in Kyrgyzstan.

Over the next few days, I hope to finally be able to post a few comments and photos through which I can share my experiences.

Counting the votes on election night in Karakoo, Kyrgyzstan