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.

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