Monday, March 14, 2005

The elections end

Yesterday the run-off elections were held. Any area in which one candidate failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote held a run-off election. This was the case for 2/3 of all elections.

I can’t really tell how people are feeling because I’m not getting much news. The central square in Osh was blocked off by trucks yet again today. I heard rumors that ongoing protests in Uzgen (a town two hours away) were causing the central market to be closed. Before I went to Bishkek, I heard that people had taken over government building in Jalalabat and Uzgen in protest. And I knew that regular “meetings” were being held in Kara-Suu. I went there and saw one myself – many people sitting peacefully outside of the court and government administration building. Many of them wore traditional Kyrgyz kalpaks.

In KaraSuu, apparently, one candidate won by a one percent margin. And opposition supporters claim that the winning candidate went around at the last minute and offered money and gifts for people to vote for him. So they think it wasn’t fair.

I also heard last week that they’d declared a state of emergency in Jalalabat and were thinking of declaring one in Osh. The five-point instability rating of Kyrgyzstan, set by international organizations, rose from a low of 0 up to 1.

It’s almost indescribable how strange it is to be in a place with clear tensions, but no news about them. It’s as though things are going on, but they are hidden from sight and sound. Even when the locals talk about what’s going on, it’s always what they heard. When I asked if anything was covered on the news or in the papers, they say no. No wonder when I happened through a pre-election protest in Jalalabat, one of the protestors asked me to spread their desire for an independent TV channel where they could speak freely.

Also late last week, I saw the first definite sign that President Akaev is going to try to stay in power. There were posters plastered on the walls of an office building, announcing that he is collecting signatures to stay in office until 2010. His final legal term is up this fall. But suspiciously, billboards of his face started appearing all over the country this past fall, a strange action for a lame duck. Today I saw the freakiest thing of all. I was sitting at an outdoor cafĂ© having lunch when I saw a man on horseback going down the central market street. Horses definitely appear in Osh, but it’s not that often I see someone trotting down a busy street, so it caught my attention.

It looked as though the man had some type of board attached to his back. At first I wondered if it was for his posture. Then I thought it was a mirror and admired his creative way of transporting it. Only as he went by did I see that it was a square portrait of President Akaev. I wondered how much the President’s supporters needed to pay to get someone to go down the street on a horse with an oil painting of the President on his back. Probably not much. I liked the President even less than before.

The March rains have begun, the grass is already green, and I’m waiting eagerly for the trees to spring to life.

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