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In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election on October 10th passed without incident. In light of June’s ethnic bloodshed and April’s revolution, this is a welcome relief. However, Kyrgyzstan is not out of the woods yet. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe could have a vital role to play in preventing the country from sliding back into chaos.

The vote was remarkably free and fair by regional standards (OSCE.org, October 11). Fair, however, does not mean simple. The nationalist Ata Zhurt party, led by associates of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, unexpectedly took the biggest share of votes, with 8.8%. President Roza Otunbayeva’s Social Democratic Party came second with 8.1%, followed by the pro-Russian Ar-Namys, the Respublika party and Ata Meken.

Despite an immediate scramble to build a coalition, however, events were stalled by a recount. This was launched after allegations of fraud by parties which failed to make the 5% threshold for entering parliament. As of October 29th, the recount had yet to be completed (24, October 26).

Tensions are rising. Protests over the recount delay have been stoked by an alleged assassination attempt on Ata Zhurt’s chairman (Neweurasia.net, October 25). Kamchibek Tashiyev claims that the head of Kyrgyzstan’s security services is responsible, and demonstrations in Mr Tashiyev’s support have broken out in Bishkek (AP, October 24). In the south, hostility persists between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. The potential for Ata-Zhurt’s nationalist supporters to become radicalised in the political ferment, leading to a resumption of violence in the south, is all too clear.

To safeguard the country’s fragile peace, the OSCE will be essential to preventing the situation from deteriorating. Doing so will require – as a first step, at least – the rapid deployment of the OSCE’s police monitoring mission.

The Police Advisory Group (PAG) was agreed by the OSCE on July 22, after international investigations found that the interim Kyrgyz government’s security forces were complicit in the pogroms against ethnic Uzbeks during the June riots. The mission will comprise 52 unarmed law enforcement advisers, who will monitor and assist Kyrgyz police in the south. Their top priority is to maintain stability in Osh and Jalalabad, and restore a degree of trust between the Uzbek minority and the security forces.

However, the domestic political situation has stymied the PAG’s deployment. The interim government in Bishkek caved in to domestic pressure in the run-up to the election and blocked the PAG’s arrival throughout the summer. Powerful regional politicians in the south – most notably Osh’s firebrand nationalist mayor Melis Myrzakmatov – supported noisy protests against the OSCE, claiming that the PAG would lead to the break-up of the country (RFE/RL, July 19).

This opposition has been viewed as a cover by shady strongmen at the nexus of politics, business, and organised crime, “to protect their own interests from international oversight”, according to Christopher Schwartz, Managing Editor of Neweurasia.net. Connections between these southern nationalists, Ata-Zhurt and former President Bakiyev are murky but widely attested (RFE/RL, October 8).

In any case, opposition to the police mission was significant enough for the interim government to stall on the PAG. Authorising an international intervention before the polls would have further emboldened nationalists opposed to the deployment, and further weakened the government’s political support in the south.

The results of the election seem to have confirmed this. Although the coalition-building is likely to leave nationalist groups in opposition (Carnegie Endowment, October 26), pro-Bakiyev and anti-government sentiment will remain strong in the south, regardless of the final seats in parliament.

This holds serious implications for the OSCE deployment. Even if the Social Democrats form a coalition with the Respublika and Ata Meken, their mandate will be so slim that forcing through the OSCE deployment on an unwilling south will be politically disastrous and legal obstacles, according to Mr Schwartz.

The new administration will have far bigger priorities, such as preventing the opposition from reversing the constitution and reinstalling a presidential system. It is not impossible that the south will be more or less ceded to Ata Zhurt and its allies, a quid pro quo enabling the government to stabilise its fragile rule.

The PAG, therefore, is increasingly unlikely to be sent, despite impatient reminders from the OSCE (OSCE.org, October 11). This matters, for two main reasons. Firstly, it would be another serious blow against the OSCE’s credibility. The ugly tug-of-war over the PAG’s deployment is a reminder that domestic politics can easily hamstring international interventions, even when those interventions are technical in nature, small in scale and seriously needed.

Secondly, it would leave southern Kyrgyzstan vulnerable to more instability and, conceivably, further bouts of ethnic violence. If the southern nationalists are excluded from political power, yet more polarisation and radicalism is likely. The security forces would not be immune to such an environment. In any new clashes they could again act as agents of an ethnic or political agenda – not as servants of the state.

The OSCE police mission would not be able to reverse the country’s political dynamics. Only responsible leadership by Kyrgyz politicians can do that. However, it would help to tame the southern security forces. And less tangibly, but perhaps more importantly, it would show that the OSCE is determined not to let Kyrgyzstan slide into ultra-nationalism and upheaval. As soon as a government is formed in Bishkek, the OSCE needs to insist on the mission’s deployment.

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