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Parliamentary Elections, 4 October 2020

Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to political upheavals. In the past 15 years, the country faced two revolutions – in 2005 and 2010 – against the corrupt political class and electoral fraud.

In the Supreme Council (Žogorku Kenesh), 120 members are elected by proportional representation in a single nationwide constituency. According to the Electoral Law, no political party is allowed to be granted over 65 seats in the Supreme Council. To gain representation in Parliament, a party must receive at least 5% of votes among all eligible voters nationwide, and at least 0.5% of votes from all eligible voters in each oblast of Kyrgyzstan.

The Social Democratic Party, which currently holds the most seats in parliament, splintered, opening the way for the opposition to make gains at the ballot box. In May 2020, barely four months until Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections and the party that currently had the most seats in parliament -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) -- suffered another split. It was the sort of sideshow the party does not need so close to the elections, as it now has three different versions of itself.

The slow dissolution of the SDPK actually began a few years ago, when Atambaev's term as president ended in November 2017 with the expiration of his six-year term. He stepped down -- a very unusual thing for a president in Central Asia to do -- but was not prepared to step aside. Atambaev is currently on trial for a range of crimes, the most serious of which is the murder of a commander of an elite security unit that stormed Atambaev’s compound in August 2019 after Atambaev repeatedly rejected summonses to be questioned about suspicious incidents that occurred while Atambaev was president.

The SDPK has long been one of the most prominent parties in Kyrgyzstan -- the only country in Central Asia where democratic elections are held -- and its practical implosion will leave many questions for the political future of the country. The SDPK won the most seats (38) in the 2015 parliamentary elections and the second-most in the 2010 (26) and 2007 (11) votes. It is one of the oldest political parties in Kyrgyzstan, even winning the most seats in the 1995 parliamentary elections among parties. (Independents won the most seats.)

The party that had the second-largest number of seats in parliament, Respublika-Ata-Jurt, also split, Respublika and Ata Jurt have formed a political alliance for the 2015 parliamentary election. In the 2010 election Respublika won 12.6% of the vote and 23 seats, while Ata-Jurt won 15.4% of the vote and 28 seats. It will participate in the upcoming elections as two parties -- Respublika (no longer led by former presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov) and Ata-Jurt. That could leave the field wide open for the October 4 parliamentary elections and, with draft legislation still being debated that could lower the threshold for winning seats from 9 percent to 7 percent, these promise to be the wildest and most unpredictable parliamentary elections ever in Kyrgyzstan.

In June 2020 several political parties and movements in Kyrgyzstan established an alliance called Jany Dem (A New Breath) to jointly take part in parliamentary elections scheduled for October. A memorandum of strategic partnership was signed on June 5 by leaders of Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, Ak Shumkar (White Falcon) party, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Jany Dem Youth Association, and the Green Alliance group.

After signing the memorandum, the politicians said the alliance's main goal was the "renewal of political forces" in the country -- the only country in Central Asia where democratic elections are held -- with "the cooperation with all political parties and civil society." The memorandum states that the members of the new alliance will stick to a conservative approach to issues related to the "preservation of traditional values and the unique culture of the people," while being open to reforms that open new opportunities to develop the country further.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov was clear the elections would take place despite the huge problems the coronavirus is causing for the country. Such Kyrgyz votes have traditionally been energetic and controversial affairs. But the October 4 vote promises to be the most interesting to date, since for the first time there are no front-runners. While that should make for spirited competition, it always raises questions about the role money might play in parties’ victories at the polls.

As of 09 July 2020, Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) said 44 parties had presented preliminary documents indicating their intention to participate. More than half of those parties are new, and probably only about one-quarter of them will actually appear on ballots. In the last elections, in 2015, 14 parties competed. Two of the six parties that have seats in the current parliament – Ata-Jurt and Onuguu-Progress – are not participating. Respublika, which ran in a coalition with Ata-Jurt in 2015, is participating. But its onetime leader, former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, has withdrawn from the party and politics in general in order to avoid legal entanglements that emerged when he ran for president against Jeenbekov in the 2017 presidential election. The Respublika-Ata-Jurt coalition, which officially split in November 2016, still maintained a unified faction in parliament, where it had the second-largest number of seats, 28.

Onuguu-Progress did submit the documents to field candidates this time. There are reports that party leader Bakyt Torobaev and other members of Onuguu-Progress will run as candidates of the new Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland Is Kyrgyzstan) party.

The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), which former President Almazbek Atambaev helped found, had fallen into disarray since Atambaev stepped down as president, started criticizing his successor, Jeenbekov, and created ever more legal problems for himself. Atambaev has already been convicted of corruption and sentenced to 11 years and two months in prison, and he is on trial on other charges, including murder. His SDPK party has splintered into several groups. Two of them -- the Social Democrats and the SDPK faction led by Sagynbek Abdrakhmanov that was the first to split from Atambaev’s group -- announced their intentions to participate in these elections.

The SDPK has the most seats in the current parliament, 38. The SDPK is the party that nominated Jeenbekov for the presidency. But his public feud with Atambaev reportedly fueled the split in the party, and it was unclear whether any of the SDPK factions are on favorable terms with the president.

Many Kyrgyz political parties have merged in previous elections, sometimes to boost their chances at the polls and sometimes because one or more parties were unable to register, so they joined ranks with a party that was already registered. Omurbek Tekebaev is the leader of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party. At the moment, it does not appear that Tekebaev, a former parliamentary speaker, will be a candidate in October, since he is under house arrest. Tekebaev was a vocal critic of former President Atambaev, and when Tekebaev went abroad seeking evidence for suspicions that Atambaev had funneled money out of Kyrgyzstan, Tekebaev suddenly faced charges of corruption and fraud in what critics said was a politically motivated case. In August 2017, Tekebaev was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, which was commuted to house arrest in August 2019 but which also disqualifies him from running for office.

But, on June 5, Tekebaev and the leaders of the Ak-Shumkar party (ex-Prime Minister Temir Sariev) and the Liberal Democratic Party (Janar Akaev), SDPK lawmaker Ryskeldi Mombekov, and others announced the creation of the political group called Zhany Dem (New Breath). They said the new group “will go into elections as a united front and will participate as such in election campaigns at all levels."

Kamchybek Tashiev’s Ata-Jurt party is not competing this time. But Tashiev is an established personality in Kyrgyzstan’s political world and personality is what drives the country's political parties. Tashiev said at the end of June he would be a candidate for the Mekenchil (Patriotic) party.

On August 5, Sariev announced Ak-Shumkar was withdrawing from that group and on August 18 it was reported that Ak-Shumkar had merged into the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party. But on August 23, Sariev announced that Ak-Shumkar was withdrawing from that alliance and added that it would not take part in the elections. On August 15, the Bir Bol and Democrat parties agreed to merge to "strengthen the interests of ordinary citizens who are hungry for change," but two days later the Democrat party announced it also was withdrawing from the elections.

On August 18, the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland Kyrgyzstan) and Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) parties announced they were merging. Ata-Jurt joined forces with Respublika (Republic) before the 2015 parliamentary elections and the combined effort resulted in Respublika/Ata-Jurt winning 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament, the second-highest number among the six parties that secured seats in those elections. The two parties formally split in November 2016 but maintained their alliance within parliament. Ata-Jurt did not announce it would participate in the upcoming elections at the start of August when 44 other parties said they intended to. So its candidates will be running under the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan banner.

A parliamentary election campaign Kyrgyzstan is set to officially begin with 15 political parties to contest 120 seats in the Jogorku Kenesh, or the Supreme Council. Kyrgyzstan’s Central Elections Commission (CEC) said on September 3 that applications by two parties, Aktiv and Butun Kyrgyzstan, had been rejected as they didn’t meet the requirements. The CEC cited "violations" and discrepancies in the documents – including the list of candidates – submitted by Butun Kyrgyzstan. The newly established Aktiv was unable to provide the registration fee of 5 million soms ($63,500).

Vote-buying is always a serious concern in Kyrgyz elections. But with so many people out of work or only working part-time because of the coronavirus, the temptation could be greater than usual for many in Kyrgyzstan.

Campaigning for Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections started September 4, but scandals, accusations, and confusion had already started. Elections in Kyrgyzstan -- the lone democracy in Central Asia -- have always been raucous events. The 2005 parliamentary elections, for example, led to the ouster of President Askar Akaev in the Tulip Revolution. But the vote set for October 4 might outdo all the previous polls as this time there are no clear favorites, which has raised the hopes of the at least 16 parties that will take part in the elections.

Pro-government parties, including Birimdik, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan as well as the opposition Ata Meken are widely expected to do well in the race. No party is allowed to hold more than 65 seats in the Supreme Council.

The sudden inclusion of a previously banned opposition party raised questions and made the vote's outcome even harder to forecast. But the reinstatement of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party in the race for seats in the country's parliament restored a balance and ensured that a premier opposition party will take part in the elections. On September 9, an administrative court in the capital, Bishkek, overturned the Central Elections Commission (CEC) decision barring the party from taking part. The party is led by Adakhan Madumarov, 55, a three-term parliamentary deputy from southern Kyrgyzstan who has also held several state posts, including secretary of the Security Council. He had led the party since founding it in 2010. The party has never won a seat in parliament.

On 04 October 2020, Kyrgyz voters went to the polls to vote for the 120 deputes in the Jogorku Kenesh, a unicameral parliament. The elections would shape the executive and legislative branches for the next five years, as the resulting majority coalition nominated a candidate for prime minister, who then form a new government. With the cancellation of local elections originally scheduled for April 12, 2020, these will be the first elections held in Kyrgyzstan and within Central Asia since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. A resurgence of COVID-19 cases since June raised concerns about the government’s ability to manage the health situation and the safety of holding elections. On September 25, the government agreed to a number of measures to safeguard the elections and voters.

What happened was the worst-case scenario for opposition parties. They should have got at least some seats but the fact that only four out of 16 parties got into parliament showed that nothing was changing for the better and that the country might have made some steps back.

On 05 October 2020 opposition supporters seized Kyrgyzstan’s seat of government in the capital Bishkek, and freed the country's former president, Almazbek Atambayev, from jail. The Central Electoral Commission said in a statement it had "invalidated the election results" which saw parties close to pro-Russian President Sooronbay Jeenbekov score big wins amid accusations of mass vote-buying campaigns.

The Kyrgyz opposition seized power 06 October 2020 after storming government buildings and getting the central election commission to annul the results of the parliamentary election, which had sparked protests. Kyrgyzstan's parliament elected opposition politician Sadyr Zhaparov as prime minister on 06 October 2020, after the previous cabinet chief resigned amid post-election protests. However, shortly afterwards Zhaparov and other politicians had to flee the hotel where parliament had convened as a number of people carrying sticks and rocks broke into the building. The previous prime minister, Kubatbek Boronov, had resigned, and parliamentary deputy Myktybek Abdyldayev had been elected speaker. Boronov is an ally of pro-Russian Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.

Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 10 October 2020 made a populist politician recently freed from jail prime minister, with Sadyr Japarov immediately saying he expected the country's embattled president to step down. Hundreds of Japarov's supporters took to the streets of the capital Bishkek to celebrate, after a week that saw opposition supporters demonstrate and clash with police over the contested election. At least one person had died and over 1,000 have been injured in Kyrgyzstan. The violence also saw shots fired as groups of rival supporters clashed on 09 October 2020. Japarov was made acting prime minister after a majority of lawmakers supported his candidacy at an extraordinary session of parliament. Japarov was already being put forward as a candidate for prime minister at the hotel meeting with a mere 30 parliamentary deputies present. That hotel parliamentary session was far short of having a quorum -- it needed to have 61 deputies -- and the appointment of Japarov as prime minister was rejected by nearly everyone except Japarov's supporters.

The opposition soon lost its momentum in a fit of disunity and now finds itself in perhaps a worse situation than it was in when the election results were announced. Opposition leaders were slow in coordinating and cooperating, but others with just as much interest in taking power seem to have appreciated there was a vacuum in governance. By October 12, Atambaev and several of his supporters who had also been freed from prison a few days earlier were detained and returned to their cells. At the end of that day, all of the high-profile prisoners released in the early morning of October 6 had been detained except Japarov.

Someone powerful seemed to be helping Japarov. Who that is remains unclear, but they have proven effective and efficient at breaking up opposition rallies, removing key figures from power ministries, and quickly disrupting any political threat from opposition parties. They are seemingly backed by thugs, whose help almost surely comes at a price, and have been able to focus attention on Japarov while remaining in the shadows.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov's office said he rejected the nomination because of the lack of a quorum at the session of a group of lawmakers at which the decision was made. He asked parliament to vote again on a new prime minister after he met Japarov and told him he would not approve his appointment. U.S. Embassy in Bishkek voiced support for Jeenbekov's move in a statement issued on October 13 and warned about the threat that organized crime poses to Kyrgyz democracy. "The United States supports the efforts of President Jeenbekov, political leaders, civil society, and legal scholars to return the political life of the country to a constitutional order," the statement said. "It is clear that one of the obstacles towards democratic progress is the attempt by organized crime groups to exert influence over politics and elections."

Nationalist politician Sadyr Zhaparov secured enough votes in Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 14 October 2020 to become the country's new premier. The president subsequently ratified the vote, in a step towards ending ongoing unrest. The president had finally accepted the nomination of Japarov as prime minister, in a move seen as the first step towards calming the crisis. But Japarov insisted that the president should step down.

President Sooronbay Jeenbekov resigned on 15 October 2020, saying he wanted to bring an end to the crisis sparked by disputed parliamentary elections earlier this month. "I am not clinging to power. I do not want to go down in the history of Kyrgyzstan as a president who allowed bloodshed and shooting on its people. I have taken the decision to resign," Jeenbekov said in a statement released by his office. More than 1,200 people were injured and one killed during the clashes in the wake of the elections between protesters and police.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:21:39 ZULU