"The wave has risen. The thunder has awoken. The time has come, a time for celebration of the victory of good over evil...."
That’s the campaign song of KelKel, a youthful political movement that is making waves in Kyrgyzstan. Loosely translated, KelKel means “new epoch” in Kyrgyz and the group -- using adapted lyrics to a popular movie tune -- is appealing to youth across the country to vote on 27 February against a government it accuses of corruption and authoritarian practices.
KelKel is one of many youth groups and parties that have sprung up recently in Kyrgyzstan, representing the full political spectrum from pro-government to neutral, to resolutely antigovernment.
It should be no surprise that the youth factor is playing an important role in the poll. Kyrgyzstan’s population, like that of many of its neighbors, is young. Some 55 percent of its inhabitants are under the age of 35. But up until now, democracy advocates say young people have been too passive and let themselves be manipulated by the government.
This time, they are hoping things will be different, although they admit it is an uphill battle.
KelKel’s leader, Alisher Mamasaliev, faces a court case over an allegedly unsanctioned rally. He has been accused by officials of trying to import revolution from Ukraine and Georgia -- a charge he resolutely denies. Mamasaliev told RFE/RL that KelKel was founded after numerous complaints by university students over rights violations. He stressed that it is a homegrown movement responding to local needs.
"After they told us about the pressures they faced during voting, about how university rectors force students living in dormitories to vote for a particular candidate or face expulsion from university, we decided to create an independent youth organization to defend the rights of students and also give them information about their voting rights," Mamasaliev said.
RFE/RL contacted the Kyiv offices of the Ukrainian youth movement Pora, to ask them to comment on the Kyrgyz government’s accusations of foreign interference in the elections. Pora coordinator Vladyslav Kaskiv said his group is working to establish contacts with youth organizations throughout the region and has found partners in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, for example. But he stresses that everything is transparent. And as of now, he emphasized, Pora has had no contacts with Kyrgyz youth groups.
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