Kyrgyzstan Parliamentary Elections

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Interview With BBC World Service (via telephone with London)
Washington, DC
October 10, 2010

BBC: The Americans are going to be watching these elections very carefully for the future of their transit base there and also because of the impact on the wider region. President Obama met Kyrgyzstan’s interim President Roza Otunbayeva a couple of weeks ago and he spoke of their concerns that there could be a return to the violence we saw earlier this year.

Robert Blake is the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs. I asked him what he was hoping for out of the election.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: First of all, this is the first time that there are going to be free parliamentary elections in Central Asia, and we think that the peaceful transfer of power through democratic means would be a real potential model for the region. And longer term, we really see Central Asia as a potential lynchpin in a new “silk road” that would link up the markets of Russia and Europe with the energy supplies of Central Asia and the growing markets of South Asia, countries like India and Bangladesh and Pakistan.

BBC: It’s of course a divided country, isn’t it? We saw this violence breaking out back in June which had devastating consequences, especially around the city of Osh. Are you concerned that that kind of thing could happen again?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well, I think what’s notable is that over the last month or so since the campaigning began on September 10th, there really has been no violence of consequence. There was one small incident earlier this week, but I think that shows that the people and the parties themselves really see that this is an opportunity for them, they have a stake in this process, and they believe that the outcome will be consequential. So they’re really putting all their energies into trying to get out the vote and compete to win this election and not to violence and other ways to undermine the election.

BBC: The Americans, your country have got a base in Kyrgyzstan. We call it a U.S. transit center at Manas Airport. It really does look like an air base, though. It’s very important for your supply route into Afghanistan, isn’t it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It’s mostly important because many of our troops transit through Manas on their way to Afghanistan, so it is important in that respect. But I don’t want to overstate that. Really our most important interest right now is in this election that’s coming up and to try to support that in every way we can, and we’ve done quite a lot in that respect.

BBC: Your supply lines into Afghanistan have really come under pressure in the past couple of weeks, these attacks on NATO convoys coming in over land from Pakistan. Does that make the base at Manas even more important than it has been?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Not so much. I think most of the supplies come in through other countries, actually, through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and so forth. So it’s more the troops that come through Manas. But it does underline the importance of having these supply lines and having these alternatives through Central Asia should the supply lines through Pakistan become less available.

BBC: How critical for the future of the country are these elections and how it’s handled, how the aftermath of the elections is handled?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think they are very critical and I think it will give a voice to the ethnic Uzbeks and to other people in Kyrgyzstan. I think from the polling that I’ve seen, there are five to seven parties that are now polling between 11 and 15 percent of the vote, so no party has a clear-cut edge at this point. So the likely outcome is that several of these parties will have to come together and form a coalition government. That’s a new thing for Kyrgyzstan so it’s reasonable to expect that that will take some time for them to coalesce around a new mechanism and a new coalition.

BBC: If there’s a Moscow-leaning parliament that’s returned by the voter, would you support that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I think the trends have been very good in terms of our cooperation with Russia. I think Russia sees, as well as we do, the importance of the transit center, the importance of continuing to help stabilize Afghanistan. So they have a very shared interest in that, and in fact that’s been one of the areas of cooperation in our wider reset with Russia, has been the cooperation in Afghanistan.

BBC: Robert Blake, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs.