Launch of Civic Education Center

November 10, 2021

Speech by UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Louise Chamberlain

Launch of Civic Education Center

10th November (Wed) 11:00- 11:50 at CEC Meeting Room

Opening Remarks from 11:00-11:30 (appx. 4 minutes)

Dear Excellency Mdm. Nurzhan Shaildabekova, Chair of the Central Commission on Elections and Referenda of the Kyrgyz Republic;

Dear Mr. Suyunbek Kasmambetov, Secretary of State of the Kyrgyz Republic;

Excellency Ambassador of Switzerland, Mr. Bangerter,

Ambassador Mr. Aleksey Rogov, Head of OSCE Programme Office in Bishkek,

Renata Levovsky, Director of IFES,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great privilege for me to be part of today’s celebration. On behalf of UNDP in the Kyrgyz Republic I would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Central Elections Commission, to the government, and to the people of Kyrgyzstan on the official launch of its Civic Education Center!

As we meet here today, the CEC is working extremely hard to prepare for holding the parliamentary elections on 28th November. One of the central challenges in this process are the fundamental question: Do the citizens understand the new electoral system and legal framework? Do they understand their own role within it, will they be free to vote in accordance with their conviction, and do they trust the integrity of the system? Will the political parties reflect the interests of the people, and will they be consistent in representing the constituencies who vote for them? Can the CEC and other stakeholders put an end to the transactional scourge of vote buying, and do people know the true value of the right they hold to vote? Can women exercise their mind freely without the influence of men and vote in accordance with their own conviction? Do young people believe that voting makes a difference for their future?

The answers to these and many more questions are rooted in the civic education culture of any country; their roots go back to decades if not centuries of shaping values, cultural change, and political culture. It is precisely for the longevity of civic values that education has to start with, and focus on, young people.

Elections are no doubt a critical part of any democracy. And the democratic aspirations and values of the Kyrgyz Republic are clearly stated in the country’s Constitution (present and former). Political equality and political knowledge are two important qualities of civic understanding that will be tested in elections. But citizens’ participation does not begin or end with elections alone. It is vitally important that citizens are included and actively engaged in all processes of democratic governance, including deliberations over public decisions and the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public policies and their outcomes.

So civic education is a continuous process that must be conducted in-between electoral cycles with a long term perspective in mind. In order to fulfil effective and full participation of citizens in the electoral and political processes, citizens need to be fully informed about their rights and empowered to make their voices heard to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems.

In this light, civic education plays a critical role not only in providing key information regarding political system to citizens, but also in promoting democratic values among citizens. In his Call to Action on Human Rights, the UN Secretary General has stressed the importance of “achieving women’s equal right to participation and representation, in every sector and at every level through ambitious actions”, and further, on the importance of involving youth he suggested that “Paternalistic attitudes and a narrowing of civic space often deny young people a role in shaping their societies. We must listen and rebuild trust.”

Realizing the importance of civic education, UNDP has been supporting CEC on a number of civic education activities since 2019. We have engaged youth in a series of mock elections in 26 colleges across the country with more than 2,700 participants, with debates and awareness raising around local elections. At the moment, we are developing an information campaign in a Telegram Bot that conveys voter information in a concise manner, and a website that teaches voting procedure to the first-time voters will shortly be launched.

UNDP has also supported the participation of women in the local elections by providing training to women candidates in elections in partnership with UN Women.

We have also supported the development of e-learning modules for citizens to learn about different components of the electoral cycle. Some 30 videos available on the CEC website help to deepen understanding of citizens on democracy, election and governance.

I would like to underscore that these initiatives would not have been possible without the commitment and support of our key donor partners, the Embassies of Switzerland, Germany, and Japan.

Ladies and gentlemen, UNDP is ready to work with all relevant national stakeholders to provide assistance to the further strengthening of civic education activities in Kyrgyzstan and establish a comprehensive civic education system. Also, we would like to see that civic education activities are fully implemented on local levels and are therefore preparing to support CEC’s initiative to use local libraries as a future oriented, accessible and inclusive platform for civic education.

Once again, allow me to congratulate the CEC with the establishment of the Civic Education Center. We look forward to seeing the Center play a catalytic role in enhancing the understanding of citizens of the country’s political and electoral system, empowering them to hold the government institutions accountable and strengthen democratic values.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen!