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Kyrgyzstan Politics

Kyrgyzstan is a parliamentary republic that has overthrown its president twice: once in 2005 and again in 2010. Mismanagement at the national-level furthers corruption by organized crime, which is perceived as receiving kickbacks from the lack of clear policy on appropriate resource management. Local, formal, government officials and informal, local leaders, like aksakals (white beards in Kyrgyz language) also known as senior community elders, leaders of womens councils, youth leaders and, in some cases, religious officials are trusted leaders. They were cited as those who tried to solve local problems, but lack the power and resources for sustainable change. Lack of oversight, transparency and accountability of state institutions at the local level has led to a lack of trust in formal state institutions by the general population. The majority know that formal state institutions need to exist but have little to no trust in them.

The incompetence at the local level is linked to two issues: corruption and nepotism which qualifies individuals for positions in formal institutions and national-level instability within formal state institutions. In turn, peoples reliance on informal structures (civil society organizations, teachers, village councils, womens councils, youth sports programs, etc.) for protection, service provision and advocacy has lead to a rise in tension between Kyrgyzstans formal and informal institutions.

Since independence from the Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz Republic has struggled to find a strong government to lead the country through political transitions in a non-violent manner. Corruption is endemic, and people have lost faith in its governing structures. State institutions have been unable to provide justice and security for all or to adopt a comprehensive strategy to resolve conflict drivers associated with interethnic discord.

Crime is pervasive in Kyrgyzstan and is often linked to people in power. In some circles, and to some extent, violence can be bought, as evidenced in its sometimes highly organized nature in Osh and other parts of the country. The quest for power through criminal, commercial and political means - with a grey area in between - is in turn based on a clan structure which continues to play an important part in social relationships.

A major divide runs along the north-south axis. The two regions have historically been distinct and tensions between them are an important underlying factor in political power struggles. Significant regional political power centers continue to exist, with a pronounced split between northern and southern provinces. In many cases, political loyalties still are defined by clan rather than party. Since its independence, Kyrgyzstan has been noteworthy for the relative openness of its political discourse and vibrancy of its civil society. Although still the leader in the region, Kyrgyzstan remains a fledgling democracy. It boasts a political opposition, an independent press that occasionally criticizes the government, and credible freedoms of religion, speech and assembly.

Beginning in the late 1990s, the regime of the thrice-elected President Oskar Akayev increasingly bypassed democratic processes, despite increasing protests. In the early 2000s, Akayevs informal power base among the business elite and younger politicians eroded as he increasingly favored the clans of the north (his region) over those of the south. In early 2005, energized by manifestly unfair parliamentary elections, opposition demonstrations in the cities brought about Akayevs resignation in what became known as the Tulip Revolution. His successor, former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev, pledged in 2005 to restore some powers to the legislative branch. Upon election he retained most of the acting cabinet that he had selected on Akayevs resignation.

On July 23, 2009 President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overwhelmingly reelected with 76% of the vote, although the OSCE noted numerous voting irregularities. In October 2009, Daniyar Usenov was nominated as Prime Minister. Protests in April 2010 in the town of Talas and in Bishkek ousted Bakiyev and his government from office.

On 7 April, amidst violent clashes in the north of the country, the government of former President Bakiyev was overthrown and a new interim government installed. Between 11-14 June an explosion of violence, destruction and looting in southern Kyrgyzstan killed hundreds of people and displaced many thousands, in particular in and around the city of Osh. The events in 2010 led to an increase in instability, both at the political level and among the population; this has been expressed in significant inter-ethnic tension.

A provisional government headed by President Roza Otunbayeva took office in April and navigated through brief but intense interethnic clashes in June 2010 to organize a referendum on June 27, 2010, by which voters approved a new constitution. The referendum also confirmed Otunbayeva as President until December 31, 2011.

The 2010 constitution is intended to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. Parliamentary elections were held in October 2010. The elections were highly competitive and peaceful, Five parties entered parliament, led by the Ata Jurt party (28 seats), and followed by the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (26 seats), Ar-Namys (25 seats), Respublika (23 seats) and Ata-Meken (18 seats). Three parties (Ata Jurt, SDPK, and Respublika) formed a governing coalition with Almazbek Atambayev as prime minister.

Because the 2010 constitutional referendum limited Roza Otunbayevas term in office until the end of 2011, Kyrgyzstan held a presidential election on October 30, 2011. Almazbek Atambayev of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan won the first round with 63 percent of the vote, thus avoiding the possibility of a second-round runoff. The 2011 election was democratic and peaceful, but some observers noted areas for improvement. Atambayevs inauguration on December 1, 2011 marked the first peaceful and democratic transfer of presidential power in Central Asia. With Atambayev vacating the office of prime minister, party factions consulted to organize a new government. A new governing coalition was formed consisting of SDPK, Respublika, Ata-Meken and Ar-Namys. Parliament approved the new government on December 23, 2011, with Omurbek Babanov (leader of the Respublika faction) as the new prime minister.

The election was widely observed with nearly 800 international observers and thousands of local observers, representing domestic NGOs, political parties, and the candidates themselves. Although not widespread, instances of fraud, including ballot stuffing and manipulation of polling station and precinct results, were observed and reported, as were problems with voter lists. For the first time, the country required citizens to register in advance and appear on voter lists in order to cast ballots. Although more than 300,000 people reportedly changed the location of their voter registration, thousands who went to the polls did not find themselves on the final voter list and were not allowed to vote. International and local observation missions noted the problems, but the general consensus was that they did not change the outcome of the election. Atambayevs two closest competitors, who each received approximately 15 percent of the vote, alleged widespread fraud and challenged the results. Nonetheless, the Central Election Commission certified the results on 12 November 2011.

Local and international observers judged the presidential election in 2011 to have been open and transparent but not without problems and accusations of fraud. Although not widespread, observers reported instances of fraud, including ballot stuffing and manipulation of polling stations and precinct results as well as problems with voter lists, but in general concluded that they did not change the outcome of the election. Local elections in cities and oblasts occurred throughout 2012 and 2013 without serious incident.

The Bishkek Garrison Court sentenced former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev to 24 years in prison on 11 February 2013. Bakiev's brother, Janysh Bakiev, received a life sentence on the same day. The Bakievs were tried in absentia for their alleged roles in a high-profile political assassination. Opposition politician Medet Sadyrkulov and two associates were found dead in a burned-out car near Bishkek in March 2009. In November 2012, five former security officers were sentenced to prison terms for their roles in the killings. Bakiev had been living in Belarus since his ouster.

Though the situation was relatively stable, demonstrations can break out without advance notice. During times of political unrest, demonstrators often gather in front of the Presidential Administration building (White House), the Parliament, and on Alatoo Square in Bishkeks city center.

Kyrgyzstan's Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party announced 18 March 2014 its withdrawal from the ruling coalition, which meant the government was effectively dissolved. Ata-Meken was part of a ruling coalition formed in September 2012 that included the Social Democratic Party and Ar-Namys (Dignity). The party said Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev had lost the moral right to continue in his post after a criminal boss was prematurely released from prison last year and subsequently fled the country. The party also cited Satybaldiev's inability to resolve the issue of boosting Kyrgyzstan's share in the Kumtor gold-mining project.

A new coalition was formed on 31 March 2014 between the Social-Democrat Party, Ata Meken Party and Ar-Namis Party. The former government was the longest-standing one since the violent uprising in April 2010.

Joomart Otorbaev was elected prime minister 09 April 2014. The swearing-in ceremony of the Cabinet members was attended by President Almazbek Atambayev. A decade earlier, some saw Otorbaev as a successor to then-Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. Otorbaev rose to become deputy prime minister the last three years that Akaev was president. When Akaev was chased from office by widespread protests in March 2005, Otorbaev left Kyrgyzstans political scene. Otorbaev returned to politics after Akaevs replacement, Kurmanbek Bakiev, was chased from power amid protests in April 2010. He won a seat in parliament in October 2010 as a candidate from the Ata-Meken party. He served as deputy prime minister in charge of the economy and investment from December 2011 until September 2012, when he became first deputy prime minister.

Around half of the country's 5.8 million people are eligible to vote on 04 October 2015. In the decade since the so-called Tulip Revolution ousted a Soviet-holdover president, the Kyrgyz social and political landscape has experienced periodic convulsions. But the country has also clung to democracy and a free press sufficiently to remain a bright spot in a region otherwise populated by authoritarian and dynastic governments. These parliamentary elections feature 14 political parties competing for all 120 seats in the Supreme Council.

The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) was expected to fare well, due to people's tendency to associate the Social Democrats with President Almazbek Atambaev, though he left the party upon becoming president, in accordance with Kyrgyz law. Other parties that were likely to do well are the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, the Respublika Ata-Jurt (also Fatherland) party, Bir Bol, the Kyrgyzstan party, and Butun Kyrgyzstan Emgek (United Kyrgyzstan Labor). Some other parties such as Ar-Namys (Dignity) might pick up a few seats.

The SDPK won the country's parliamentary elections on October 4, receiving almost 28 percent of the votes. Six political parties passed the threshold to enter the 120-member unicameral legislature, which is known as Jogorku Kenesh (The Supreme Council).

On October 29, 2015 Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev officially asked the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) to create a ruling coalition. Atambaev met with the leader of the SDPK parliamentary group, Chynybai Tursunbekov and told him to establish a ruling coalition. Such parties as Kyrgyzstan (with 12.8 percent of the votes); Onuguu-Progress (9.3 percent) and Ata-Meken (Fatherland, 7.7 percent) could all join the SDPK in a government.

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Temir Sariyev resigned on 11 April 2016 after a parliamentary commission accused his cabinet for corruption, a move highlighting tensions between different factions of President Almazbek Atambayev's supporters. A commission set up by the ex-Soviet republic's parliament said the government had broken the law, accusing it of having rigged a $100 million road construction tender to ensure it was given to a Chinese firm that lacked the required license. Sariyev, who has denied any wrongdoing, had asked Atambayev to sack Transport Minister Argynbek Malabayev, but Atambayev refused to do so.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) withdrew from the ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan's parliament, meaning that the coalition cabinet of Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov would have to resign. SDP faction leader Isa Omurkulov said on 24 October 2016 that the decision to withdraw from the six-party coalition was made at a party meeting earlier the same day "because of irreconcilable political views." The SDP was headed by President Almazbek Atambaev before his election as president. The move came amid tensions within the six-party coalition over holding a referendum on constitutional changes. Two parties within the ruling coalition -- Ata-Meken (Fatherland) and Onuguu (Progress) -- opposed the constitutional changes, which would expand the powers of the prime minister and parliament and reform Kyrgyzstan's judicial system. Civil society activists and opposition groups criticized the proposals, accusing Atambaev of seeking to extend his grip on power.

Atambaye's Social Democratic party nominated Kyrgyzstan's current prime minister, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, as its candidate for the 15 October 2017 election. The sitting president, Almazbek Atambayev, is not eligible to run again because he has completed the sole six year term he is allowed by the Kyrgyz constitution. Jeenbekov has said the future president should be a person "capable of continuing" the policies of Atambaev, who has publicly called Jeenbekov a "friend" and said Jeenbekov's government was "the best" cabinet during his presidency. In a country where regional associations play a key role in politics, Jeenbekov is among a group of influential politicians from the southern provinces.

A former prime minister and wealthy businessman, 47-year-old Omurbek Babanov is a top contender according to polls. Babanov is the billionaire leader of the conservative-nationalist Respublika-Ata Zhurt party. In 2010, Babanov founded the pro-business Respublika Party, which has since merged with Ata Jurt to form Kyrgyzstan's second-largest faction in parliament It opposed to the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDPK) that is the leader of the Kyrgyz Parliament's majority coalition. These two parties control 66 of the 120 seats in the Kyrgyz Parliament, with the other 54 controlled by four other parties.

A court in Kyrgyzstan sentenced opposition politician Omurbek Tekebayev to eight years in prison for corruption and fraud on 16 August 2017, two months ahead of a presidential election in which he planned to run. The Central Asian republic's pro-Russian president, Almazbek Atambayev, is barred from running in the October 15 election and is backing an ally. Some of his critics now accuse him of seeking to retain political power after October by taking on the role of prime minister, a switch that President Vladimir Putin engineered in Russia in 2008. Tekebayev is one of Atambayev most outspoken critics.

Kyrgyzstan formally accused larger neighbor Kazakhstan of interfering in their upcoming October presidential election, saying that Astana has publicly favored right-wing challenger Omurbek Babanov. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan summoned Rymtai Karibzhanov, Kazakhstan's chief diplomat to Bishkek, and handed him a notice of official protest 23 September 2017. Bishkek has accused Astana of interfering in their election when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev met with Babanov. "Despite the fact that the leader of friendly Kazakhstan said that he does not interfere in the internal affairs of Kyrgyzstan, his words clearly reflect the preference of the Kazakh side regarding the future president of the Kyrgyz Republic," the note said.

This was an historic vote; the first regular transition of power from a sitting president who has completed a constitutionally defined term of office to an elected successor. There are 11 candidates registered, including one woman candidate and three former prime ministers. Polls appear to show two clear front-runners in what could shape up to be a rare competitive vote in post-Soviet Central Asia.

The president is elected for a six-year term by direct universal suffrage on the basis of an absolute majority. A candidate that gets more than one-half of the votes cast in the first round is considered elected. There are no turnout requirements for the validity of an election. If no candidate receives the required majority, a run-off takes place between the two candidates with the most votes.

Former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov won the 15 October 2017 presidential election. The central election commission said that Jeenbekov won about 55 percent of the vote, with 98 percent of the polls counted. He defeated 10 other candidates, including main opposition leader Omurbek Babanov. Jeenbekov said he will do all he can to justify the trust the people have placed in him. He noted that his task is to maintain past achievements and strengthen the economy.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov sacked Sapar Isakov's government on April 19, hours after lawmakers passed a no-confidence motion in the strongest sign of a power struggle between Jeenbekov and his predecessor, Atambaev. The confidence vote was initiated by opposition lawmakers and followed criticism of the cabinet's 2017 annual report by opposition parties. But the ruling coalition led by Atambaev's Social Democratic party abruptly withdrew its backing for Isakov, and 101 of 112 present in the 120-seat chamber voted against him.

The Kyrgyz parliament confirmed Mukhammedkalyi Abylgaziev as the Central Asian countrys new prime minister, a day after an ally of former President Almazbek Atambaev was sacked. The new cabinet proposed by Abylgaziev and approved by parliament on 20 April 2018 includes a mix of newcomers and holdovers from the previous government led by Isakov.

Kyrgyzstan has been struggling with a sluggish economy and high unemployment. Many young people have been leaving the country for Syria to join the Islamic State militants. Kyrgyzstan, a country of 6 million that hosts a Russian military base, is widely seen as the most democratic but also the most politically volatile of the five Central Asian states that gained independence in the Soviet breakup of 1991. Antigovernment protests toppled presidents in 2005 and 2010.

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