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‘Carousel Voting’ Goes Viral in Kyrgyz Elections

Nearly three months of intrusive and irksome electoral campaigns in Kyrgyzstan came to an end as votes were counted for the five municipal elections held on November 25. But with the results in, a scandalous piece of citizen media has left a sour taste in the mouth.

On November 26, a day after the elections, a netizen named myrkkk posted [ru] a sensational video on a popular video-sharing service blive.kg, depicting a woman offering instructions on “carousel voting“ to voters in the capital, Bishkek. The woman, Nargiza Azhibaeva,  coordinator of the youth wing of the opposition party ‘Respublika’, is shown giving instructions to young people on how to cast ballots multiple times.

A demotivator picture of Respublika youth wing members depicted as ‘carousel’ voters. Carousel voting is a form of vote rigging popular in the former Soviet Union. It involves groups of voters being bussed from one polling station to another to cast multiple votes (taken from Kloop.kg).

For her part, Azhibaeva, whose party is headed by former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov (featured in Global Voices reports here and here) has claimed [ru] in a subsequent interview that the video tape was designed to discredit Respublika, and that the country's secret police, under the control of President Almasbek Atambayev, had intimidated her into doing it.

In the video itself, Azhibaeva is filmed saying [ru]:

Сейчас в первую очередь необходимо, чтобы вы были психологически к этому готовы. В принципе, до пяти часов мы максимально пытались работать честно, но уже ситуация выходит из-под контроля — в 7 часов УИКи закрываются, и мы сейчас будем пропускать своих людей.

Now first of all it is necessary for you to be mentally prepared for this. We tried to work honestly up until five o'clock, but the situation is already getting out of control -the polling stations are closing at 7, and we are going to send our people in.

The woman then tells [ru] the young people to prove that they can erase ink from their fingers and notifies them of the “friendly” official they should present themselves to at the polling station prior to casting multiple votes. She also tells them the secret password to tell the official:

Во сколько закрывается УИК?

What time do the polling stations close?

The video soon became popular among netizens, who incorporated the “What time do the polling stations close?” meme in a series of demotivator pictures:

In this demotivator, President Atambayev teases his younger rival, former PM Omurbek Babanov. In a mix of Russian and Kyrgyz, Atambayev says “Ay! Little Omurbek!” to which Babanov replies: “What?” Atambayev then moves in with the punchline: “What time do the polling stations close?”

If found guilty Azhibaeva could face [ru] up to seven years of imprisonment, although Pamir Asanov, the country's Deputy Police Chief, reminded [ru] people that the video clip did not reveal carousel voting itself, just an apparent preparation for it.

At any rate, the incident once more showcased the wry sense of humour of Kyrgyz netizens and the tendency to view everything related to political life in the country with healthy cynicism. Among a host of comments congratulating the person who filmed the video (whether a KGB agent or just an ordinary citizen faking fake voting) Doto's observation stood out [ru] as the embodiment of this cynicism:

Да молодой состав Республики спалился,не зря говорят опыт прежде всего……..))

Naturally it was the youth wing of Respublika that messed up – experience counts for everything in this game…..))

Another MP, Shirin Aitmatova, suspected [ru] that rumours the video was made on the orders of the ruling party may have something to it:

 Я не знаю, правда это или нет, в этом нужно разбираться. Но если это правда, и видео заказное, а снимали его представители спецслужб, то я думаю, мы возвращаемся в бакиевские времена. Когда спецслужбы занимались не своими функциональными обязанностями, а исполняют приказы власть имущих.

I am not sure whether this is true or not, it should be examined. But, if it's true and the video was ordered and made by the representatives of intelligence agencies, then we are truly going back to the [former President] Bakiyev era, when intelligence agencies executed the orders of those in power instead of carrying out their functional duties.

As the vote in Bishkek finished, it became clear that it was President Atambayev's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan that had won a clear victory, with almost twice as many votes as Respublika, the second placed party. Tensions over the vote threatened [ru] the collapse of the parliamentary ruling coalition, a fairly regular occurrence in Kyrgyzstan's young parliamentary democracy. (Global Voices has covered the politics of coalition-building/breaking in Kyrgyzstan here, here and here)

N.B Campaigns for the municipal elections proved a topic that was of much interest to Kyrgyzstani bloggers. In this blog Ilya Lukash complains [ru] about one party's attempt to forward a candidate with acknowledged criminal ties to the southern city council of Jalalabad. As part of Kloop's news coverage of the campaigns, Russian PR specialists dissected [ru] the advertising strategies of the various competing parties. The PR specialists didn't pull any punches….

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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