Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Omens

As late July elections in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova approach, disturbing developments have surfaced in several post-Soviet states.
  • In Azerbaijan, two young pro-democracy activists were beaten and detained. Harassment of the opposition is not unprecedented, but this attack occurred publicly in a popular restaurant. The official version of events has changed, while the attackers have been released and the activists were tried and convicted on the charge of hooliganism. Several youth movements have used the Internet to challenge - and poke fun at - the government. Open challenges to government authority have been met with repression in the past, but expressions of dissent seem to be tolerated to a greater extent than in several other post-Soviet societies.

    This provocation raises the possibility that opposition to authority will be met with harsher responses. A direct link to events in Iran is unlikely, but the capacity of the opposition to mobilize protesters in Azerbaijan's southern neighbor may have raised alarms in Baku and encouraged authorities to send a strong message to potential opponents.

  • While Kyrgyzstan's incumbent president Kurmanbek Bakiyev faces a legitimate challenger in the Social Democratic Party's Almaz Altanbayev, he is nevertheless expected to win. Opposition editors (1, 2) and journalists (1, 2) have been targeted in attacks that may be politically motivated. In addition, while Bakiyev has been courting religious voters, but some have allegedly been targeted as dissenters.

  • My imedia contact in Moldova has identified many important developments as the snap parliamentary election approaches. First, the election law has been modified, lowering the threshold from 6% to 5%, and lowering the turnout requirement from 50% (+1) to 33%. Second, the election is scheduled to take place on a work day (Wednesday, July 29). Moldovan elections are typically held on Sundays. Third, no more than nine parties (and no independents running) will contest. Actiunea Europeana just withdrew, and other parties could also drop out. None of this is disturbing news, and some of it - such as the reduction in the threshold - could be beneficial to pluralism.

    However, the campaign atmosphere has been stacked against the opposition, with state TV supporting the PCRM. My contact notes that the"...narrative is that [the opposition] tried to stage a coup with Romanian support and that if people don't vote for the Party of Communists, Moldova as a country will disappear." The opposition has failed to coordinate its challenge to the PCRM once again, rendering it at least partially culpable in its likely defeat. Some polling is due to be released, and I will comment more on Moldova's election as information becomes available.

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