BISHKEK/PRAGUE. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, postponed his planned visit to Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries. The OSCE Bishkek office and the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said today that the postponement was connected with the present situation concerning Iraq, and the Minister wanted to be available in The Hague for consultations within the Netherlands government and for contacts with his European Union colleagues.
During his visit to Central Asia (10 to 14 February 2003), Scheffer had planned to go to all five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In a letter to the Presidents of the countries concerned, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office said he intends to reschedule his trip to Central Asia as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Kyrgyzstan representative at the OSCE, Ambassador Alikbek Jekshenkulov informed the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on the official results of the Kyrgyzstan referendum held last Sunday. Representatives of Greece, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Turkey and Netherlands and the CIS countries' ambassadors hailed the referendum as an attempt to strengthen democratic processes in Kyrgyzstan, Jekshenkulov told RFE/RL today.
The referendum on February 2, 2003, called on voters to approve the proposed amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution and to allow President Askar Akayev to remain in office until his term expires in December 2005. According to the Central Election Commission's press release issued yesterday, some 2.1 million people, or 86 percent of all registered voters, cast their ballots during the referendum - a figure well over the 50-percent mark needed to validate the referendum. Of these, some 76 percent voted in favor of the proposed constitutional amendments.
However, Jypar Jekshe of the opposition Public Headquarters for Monitoring the Referendum (PHMR) told RFE/RL's Bishkek Bureau the day after the referendum that the official turnout figures in the referendum were significantly exaggerated:
"For the whole of Kyrgyzstan, about 40 percent of eligible voters came to the polls. In Bishkek it was not higher than 30 percent."
Emil Aliev, a leading member of the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, described to RFE/RL how authorities in Bishkek transported people from one polling station to another so they could vote several times: "While monitoring the referendum procedures, we noticed some shortcomings. For instance, in the city Bishkek, buses visited several constituencies, going from one to another with voters who cast their ballots again and again. This way, they artificially increased the number of voters. This was the case not only in Bishkek. We gathered such information from other regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. That is why the authorities created obstacles to prevent us from observing the referendum and giving information on the irregularities and actual referendum results to other people."
Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev - whose immediate political future was secured by the official referendum results - dismissed allegations of procedural iolations. In a strongly worded statement broadcast Wednesday on state TV, Akayev sought to portray the opposition of having tried, unsuccessfully, to sabotage the referendum: "I evaluate the results of the voting as a clear position of the nation against opposition forces who aimed at political destabilization, ... disruption of the referendum or announcing it as illegal. The electorate said 'no' to the forces who were harming national unity and concord."
Speakers at a press conference in Bishkek held by the PHMR activists yesterday, said the PHRM will appeal to the Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. government and international human rights organizations to declare the referendum illegal.