Steppe one – Sadyr Japarov is elected president of Kyrgyzstan in a landslide | Asia

Opponents have labelled him a dangerous demagogue

A CAMPAIGN ad for Sadyr Japarov, the newly elected president of Kyrgyzstan, shows him galloping across a snowy expanse on a white steed, coattails flying in the slipstream. The message is clear: Mr Japarov is a knight in shining armour (or at least in traditional Kyrgyz garb, which he wore on the campaign trail), racing to save the turbulent Central Asian nation, which has seen three popular uprisings in 15 years, including one this past autumn that put him on the path to power.

“I’m not going to repeat the mistakes of previous administrations,” vowed Mr Japarov in an interview in his campaign headquarters at midnight on election day, January 10th. Preliminary results showed him storming to victory with 79% of the vote, albeit on a turnout of 40%. It was venality and injustice that had caused past leaders to be overthrown, he said. “Why repeat those mistakes? I’m going to rule fairly.”

Yet Mr Japarov was an eager participant in one of those discredited governments, toppled in 2010. Moreover, his recent rise involved all manner of legal and constitutional contortions. He was serving a prison sentence for kidnapping—a conviction he says was politically motivated—when protests first broke out over a tainted election presided over by his predecessor, Sooronbay Jeyenbekov, in October. A mob freed him, and helped propel him first to the prime ministership and then to the job of acting president, when Mr Jeyenbekov resigned. (An ally briefly took over that role while Mr Japarov campaigned, to comply with the constitution.)

“Ordinary people, especially young people, believe in me. They trust their fates and the fate of the country to me,” said a visibly exhausted Mr Japarov, sipping a glass of tea as euphoric campaign staff bustled about. His fondness for invoking “the people”, his careful cultivation of a mass following through social media, and the thuggishness of some of his devotees have drawn comparisons with Donald Trump, which he rejects with a good-natured laugh. “I don’t consider myself a populist. I hate populists,” says Mr Japarov, one of whose slogans is “the people’s choice”.

“He’s good, honest and just. He’s suffered for the country and the people,” gushes Elzad Junusov, an enthusiastic supporter. “He really is a man of the people,” Mr Junusov added, whipping out his phone to show photos of himself visiting Mr Japarov in prison. Mr Junusov says he has been a fan since Mr Japarov led a rabble-rousing campaign for the nationalisation of a Canadian-run gold mine nine years ago. Although that movement brought Mr Japarov to national prominence, he has backtracked on the idea since coming to power.

To his critics, the new president is a dangerous demagogue, likely to roll back the hard-won political freedoms that make Kyrgyzstan stand out in a region of autocrats. The use of force in politics is “very alarming”, says Maksat Janibekov, a 30-year-old resident of Bishkek, the capital, referring to the mobs that have helped persuade many of Mr Japarov’s rivals to stand aside. Mr Janibekov was among protesters marching on election day against Mr Japarov’s plans to strengthen the authority of the president. In a referendum held alongside the election, 81% of voters approved his proposal to shift various powers back from parliament to the president, undoing changes adopted after the revolution in 2010 to prevent a return to the rule of strongmen. Mr Japarov also intends to scrap the clause in the constitution limiting the president to a single term, another safeguard against power-hungry leaders.

Mr Japarov shrugs off suggestions that he is a dictator-in-waiting: “I’m a democratic person.” In his victory speech he sounded a conciliatory note, saying he had “no malice or hatred in his heart” and urging rivals to unite behind him. More ominously, he also declared: “The minority should submit to the majority.”

Mr Japarov will need all the consensus he can muster if he is to make a success of the job. The pandemic has prompted a surge in unemployment. Foreign investors are spooked by mob attacks on businesses during the unrest in October. Russia and China, the dominant powers in the region, are also upset about the tumult. Organised crime and corruption are blights that he insists he will fight, but that others accuse him of complicity with—a claim he dismisses as a political smear. It will take a couple of years to fulfil his promise of better lives for his long-suffering people, Mr Japarov warns. With two of his predecessors in exile and another languishing in jail, the stakes are high.

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Kyrgyzstan PM Claims Presidential Powers in Post-Vote Crisis

Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister Sadyr Japarov claimed presidential powers on Thursday after the Central Asian country’s head of state Sooronbay Jeenbekov resigned amid a post-election crisis.

“The powers of the president and the prime minister have been transferred to me,” Sadyr Japarov told cheering supporters on Thursday, after Jeenbekov resigned and the parliament speaker refused to become acting president.

“I congratulate you on victory. Today everything fell into place,” he told supporters outside the prime minister’s offices.

Protests erupted after October 4 parliamentary elections were won by parties loyal to Jeenbekov, with opponents disputing the results over alleged vote-buying.

The vote was later annulled but this did not quell the clashes, in which more than 1,200 people were injured and one killed.

After trying to calm the crisis by confirming Japarov in his role only Wednesday, Jeenbekov has now became the third Kyrgyz leader to resign over political unrest since 2005.

He said he was stepping down to avoid bloodshed, as hundreds of protesters loyal to Japarov rallied close to the state residence calling for his resignation.

“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.

The president had previously pledged to resign after overseeing fresh parliamentary elections, but Japarov insisted that he step down without delay.

Jeenbekov called on Japarov and other politicians “to withdraw their supporters from the capital of the country so the people of Bishkek (can) return to a peaceful life.”

Post-vote clashes 

Populist figurehead Japarov was among prominent figures sprung from jail during the unrest.

He was serving time for hostage-taking and has been suspected of ties to organized crime, prompting a rally last week.

But he has denied the links and said that his 2017 arrest was the result of a “political order”.

Since his release and confirmation as prime minister, his supporters have pushed for him to claim the presidency – and sometimes been accused of violence and intimidation.

“People are rejoicing (at Jeenbekov’s resignation),” one supporter, Zhanat Akmatova, told AFP, adding that parliament is “in his way”.

Once the body is dissolved, “(the people) want Sadyr (Japarov) to take it all upon himself and begin working,” she said.

Parliament was set to meet on Friday to discuss Jeenbekov’s resignation.

With the body’s mandate expiring, speaker Kanat Isayev told Kyrgyz news website that he had “no moral right” to take up the presidency as called for under the constitution – leaving Japarov next in line as PM.

“The political crisis isn’t over,” Azim Azimov, a political commentator, told AFP. “We have just completed one phase of the crisis and the next phase is upon us.”

“It seems the resignation of Sooronbay Jeenbekov was not completely voluntary,” he added.

Azimov also pointed out that Russia and the West had thrown their weight behind Jeenbekov since the unrest began.

Third crisis in Russia’s neighborhood 

Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked republic of 6.5 million people, has been dogged by political volatility for much of the three decades since it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The chaos has worried ally Russia, coming as post-election protests rock ex-Soviet Belarus and clashes persist over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

In a phone call Thursday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told his new Kyrgyz counterpart Ruslan Kazakbayev of Moscow’s “concern about the development of the internal political situation” and readiness to assist “legitimate state organs” seeking stability, a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

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Kyrgyzstan President calls in military as protesters clash in streets

Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov has declared a state of emergency in the capital Bishkek and ordered the military to end days of unrest, as supporters of rival political groups fought on the streets.

The President had said he was ready to resign once a new cabinet was appointed which could happen on Saturday, when parliament plans to convene in his residence, according to a deputy speaker quoted by local news website Akipress.

The country is facing a power vacuum, with opposition groups quarrelling among themselves since seizing Government buildings and forcing the cancellation of results from Sunday’s parliamentary election which they denounced as fraudulent.

Two leading opposition figures reached an agreement to join forces on Friday and won the backing of former president Almazbek Atambayev.

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Kyrgyz President says he’s willing to annul the election results

But their followers and followers of other groups held rival rallies, which politicians said posed a danger of violence.

Mr Jeenbekov’s office said in a statement the state of emergency, including a curfew and tight security restrictions, would be in effect from 8pm, on Friday until 8am on October 21.

His order did not say how many troops would be deployed but they were instructed to “take the situation under control” and use military vehicles, set up checkpoints, and prevent armed clashes.

However, a local NGO said the order required a confirmation from parliament.

‘Mess and Chaos’

Russia has described the situation in Kyrgyzstan, which borders China and hosts a Russian military base, as “a mess and chaos”.

The crisis tests the Kremlin’s power to shape politics in its former Soviet sphere of influence, at a time when fighting has erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Belarus is also engulfed in protests.

The opposition is divided between 11 parties which represent clan interests in a country that has already seen two presidents toppled by popular revolts since 2005.

Rival candidates for the premiership Omurbek Babanov and Tilek Toktogaziyev joined forces on Friday, with Mr Toktogaziyev agreeing to serve as Mr Babanov’s deputy. They were backed by four parties, local news website reported.

Riot police wearing helmets and gas masks stand in a line and fire tear gas
Protesters gather in front of the government headquarters on the central square in Bishkek.(AP: Vladimir Voronin)

They were joined at a rally in Bishkek by the former president Atambayev.

A few thousand followers chanted “I am not afraid” and “Kyrgyzstan” to the rhythmic beating of large drums.

Followers of another candidate, Sadyr Zhaparov, also numbering a few thousand, held a demonstration nearby. Some of Mr Zhaparov’s supporters later rushed into the square, leading to scuffles between the rival groups until the Babanov and Toktogaziyev supporters withdrew.

News website Akipress said Mr Toktogaziyev was rushed to hospital with blunt head trauma after the confrontation where he then regained consciousness and was in a stable condition.

Separately, an aide to Mr Atambayev said a shot had been fired at his car which did not wound anyone.

Mr Jeenbekov’s allies swept Sunday’s parliamentary vote in the official results that have now been discarded. They have kept a low profile as the opposition parties have taken to the streets. Western observers said the election was marred by credible allegations of vote-buying.

So far, veteran officials who supported the revolt have been in control of the security forces.

On Friday, self-appointed provisional heads of the interior ministry and the state security service left their respective buildings and handed over the leadership to their deputies. The two state bodies said the move was meant to ensure security forces remained apolitical.

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New Clashes In Kyrgyzstan As Leader ‘Ready To Resign’

Two large crowds supporting rival politicians clashed in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on Friday as a power vacuum persisted and President Sooronbay Jeenbekov said he was ready to resign.

The new clashes broke out after Jeenbekov imposed a state of emergency in the capital on Friday and said he would resign to end post-vote chaos.

A disputed parliamentary election sparked a fresh crisis in the Central Asian country, triggering protests and unrest that have left at least one dead and more than 1,000 injured.

But questions about Jeenbekov’s level of control over the situation persisted as tensions bubbled over between supporters of two factions that have promoted candidates for the vacant post of prime minister.

There has been little evidence of a central authority in Bishkek since a parliamentary vote in the ex-Soviet republic on Sunday sparked protests that morphed into violent unrest.

On Friday, fist fights broke out after two hostile camps that are jostling to form a government converged in central Bishkek.

An AFP correspondent saw supporters of one of the groups break windows of cars as security guards working for the rival group fired shots in the air, before key leaders were evacuated from the scene.

Riot police in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek use water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters at a rally against the results of a parliamentary vote.

It was not immediately clear who initiated the conflict but the violence began when supporters of nationalist Sadyr Japarov, who has styled himself as prime minister, descended on a rally featuring speeches by a former president and former prime minister.

On Friday, Jeenbekov signed off on the resignation of the government in place before the election, which opposition parties say was rigged by massive vote-buying in favour of parties close to the president.

Election officials said a date for fresh elections would be set before November 6.

The crisis is the latest political turbulence to sweep through the volatile ex-Soviet state bordering China which has seen two revolutions and three of its presidents either jailed or sent into exile since independence

Jeenbekov, who has not appeared in public since Monday, said early on Friday he was prepared to step down once a new government is formed.

“After legitimate executive authorities have been approved and we are back on the path of lawfulness, I am ready to leave the post of President of the Kyrgyz Republic,” he said in a statement.

Later the same day he declared a 12-day state of emergency in Bishkek, including tight controls on movement in and out of the city.

But with opposition politicians claiming leadership posts in the interior ministry and state prosecutor’s office, analysts said it was not clear how Jeenbekov could enforce the state of emergency.

Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet state bordering China

Supporters of various rival groups had gathered across the capital earlier in the day, each supporting its own faction or cause but none openly backing the Jeenbekov.

Japarov, a headstrong nationalist, says lawmakers backed his claim to be prime minister in a secretive vote in a hotel on Tuesday.

But Jeenbekov only signed off on the resignation of the cabinet and the previous prime minister three days later.

Japarov, who had been serving an 11.5-year jail sentence for hostage-taking, was freed by his allies during a night of tumult on Monday.

Former president Almazbek Atambayev and a host of his associates were also freed from custody.

Atambayev and former prime minister Omurbek Babanov, who have united in opposition to Jeenbekov and Japarov, addressed a rally of roughly 1,000 people on Friday.

An opposition bloc pushed for Babanov to become prime minister earlier in the day, a move that enraged Japarov supporters.

Russia is the dominant foreign power in Kyrgyzstan and has attempted to broker disputes in the past.

Stanislav Zas, the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Moscow-led security bloc, suggested the group could play a “mediating role”.

“We have that experience,” said Zas.

If Jeenbekov were to resign, he would become the third leader from the former Soviet country to be felled by political unrest after uprisings unseated authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010.

He has been in power in Kyrgyzstan, which shares a border with China, since 2017.

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Political Crisis Erupts in Kyrgyzstan Over Disputed Election

Unrest broke out in ex-Soviet nation Kyrgyzstan on Sunday after a highly contested parliamentary election sparked protests in the capital city of Bishkek.

Opposition supporters stormed the government headquarters and presidential offices and freed former president Almazbek Atambayev from jail.

Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov then resigned on Tuesday, after which formerly imprisoned nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov was elected in a parliamentary meeting in a hotel.

Since then, over a dozen political parties have formed a “coordination council” to restore stability, but acting Prime Minister Japarov has refused to recognize the council.

While President Sooronbay Jeenbekov maintains that he is in control of the situation, he has not been seen in public since the unrest began.

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Kyrgyzstan opposition claims power after storming government buildings

Protests spread throughout the country, where two presidents have been overthrown in the past 15 years, halting some foreign gold mining operations and prompting an expression of concern from Russia, a longtime ally.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov called for calm and ordered security forces not to open fire on protesters after unrest in which one person had been killed and 686 wounded by Tuesday afternoon, according to the health ministry.

Officials said Sunday’s parliamentary election, which protesters condemned as illegitimate, would be rerun, while the opposition took charge of the key post of parliament speaker.

Fresh clashes remained a serious risk however, as protesters stayed on the streets and a crowd armed with rocks and stones broke into a hotel where members of parliament had convened, forcing the newly proposed interim prime minister, an opposition figure, to flee, according to a report by news website Akipress.

Shop owners in the capital Bishkek, fearing looting, installed metal shields against marauders.

Burnt-out cars littered the city after protesters stormed the main government building, known as the White House, early on Tuesday. It briefly caught fire before emergency services put out the blaze and debris from inside, including government papers, and office furniture, was strewn outside.

Kyrgyzstan, which borders China, has long been a platform for geopolitical competition between Moscow, Washington and Beijing. It houses a Russian military base and its leaders and main opposition groups have traditionally backed close ties with Russia.

Yet unidentified intruders torched a Russian-operated factory at Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest gold deposit Jeruy on Tuesday, forcing its owners to suspend development of the site.

Russia’s military base was put on high alert.

London-listed miner Kaz Minerals said it had suspended production at its Bozymchak copper and gold mine and protesters showed up at smaller mines developed by Chinese and Turkish companies and demanded they halt operations, according to local news website Akipress.

State-owned gold miner Kyrgyzaltyn said it had repelled an attempted attack on its office. Another group appeared to have broken into its gold refinery.

Canada’s Centerra Gold, which operates the country’s biggest gold deposit, said its operations were continuing uninterrupted.

Government takeover

The opposition said it had set up a coordination council and was discussing the line-up of a provisional government.

Opposition groups also freed Almazbek Atambayev, a former president jailed on corruption charges after falling out with Jeenbekov. Atambayev was not named to any role, however, and Jeenbekov showed no immediate signs of relinquishing power.

The central election commission said it had annulled the results of the election and a new one would be called shortly.

Following calls to legitimise a transfer of power, the outgoing parliament elected opposition politician Myktybek Abdyldayev as speaker.

It also proposed Sadyr Zhaparov as interim prime minister, online media outlet quoted Abdyldayev as saying on Tuesday evening. Other media previously reported that he was elected as interim prime minister.

Protesters sprang Zhaparov earlier in the day from a prison where he was serving a sentence on charges of hostage-taking in 2013 unrest.

Interior Minister Kashkar Junushaliyev did not show up for work on Tuesday, a ministry spokesman said, saying that Kursan Asanov, an opposition politician and a former senior security official, had taken over as acting interior minister.

The Russian embassy said it supported resolving the situation in the country through legal means while ensuring stability and people’s safety.

Contested vote

Trouble erupted on Monday after police used teargas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people demanding the election be annulled.

Western observers said the election, which appeared to have handed most seats to two establishment parties supporting closer links between the former Soviet republic and Russia, had been marred by vote buying.

One of the parties was close to Jeenbekov, who insisted in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday night that he remained the legitimate president and that it was his job to consolidate the positions of various factions through negotiations.

As well as storming the White House, which houses both the president and parliament, protesters took over several other buildings, including the mayor’s office.

They appointed their own acting head of national security, acting prosecutor general and a commandant of Bishkek, although it was hard to judge how much power they wielded.

This story has been updated.

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Kyrgyzstan PM Kubatbek Boronov resigns after post-election protests plunge country into chaos

Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned Tuesday after widespread unrest pushed the country’s electoral body to cancel the results of Sunday’s parliament elections.

Mr Boronov, an ally of pro-Russian President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, was replaced by a nationalist politician that protesters released from jail the day before.

Unrest over the vote left almost 700 hurt and one dead and appeared to be spreading Tuesday to other parts of the country, raising concerns from Russia which has a powerful influence in the ex-Soviet country wedged between China and Kazakhstan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday expressed hope for a peaceful solution to a political crisis in Kyrgyzstan after unrest prompted authorities to cancel the results of a parliamentary election.

“We are hoping that things will resolve peacefully,” Mr Putin said in an interview with state television, adding that Russia hopes “normal democratic processes will resume … as soon as possible”.

Kyrgyzstan’s Central Electoral Commission said that it had “invalidated the election results” which saw parties close to Mr Jeenbekov dominate results amid accusations of mass vote-buying.

The results sparked a tumultuous Monday night in the capital Bishkek, with protesters seizing government buildings and freeing high-profile politicians from prison, including former president Almazbek Atambayev.

The new prime minister, Sadyr Japarov, was elected during an extraordinary meeting in a hotel after protesters seized the parliament building, the parliamentary press service said.

Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin was “certainly concerned” over the unrest.

Russian military authorities said they had beefed up security at their base outside the capital.

The United States meanwhile called on all sides to “refrain from violence and resolve the election dispute through peaceful means”.

Attempt to seize power

Bishkek was calmer on Tuesday, although the president’s office remained under the control of protesters and there were some reports of crowds roaming the streets targeting businesses and other organisations.

Mr Jeenbekov’s office said the president had remained in the capital, despite not making any public appearances.

But reports indicated that unrest was spreading beyond the capital with several gold and coal mines — critical to the threadbare state budget — seized or damaged by marauders.

People protested against the results of parliamentary elections at the presidential administration in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.


More than a dozen political parties said they had formed a “coordination council” to restore stability and “return to the rule of law”, criticising the presidency for failing to ensure a fair election.

However, the new prime minister’s party has refused to recognise the council.

President Jeenbekov has insisted the situation in the country is under his control, and accused “several political forces” of attempting to seize power Tuesday.

“I ordered law enforcement agencies not to open fire or shed blood, so as not to endanger the life of a single citizen,” Mr Jeenbekov said.

A court in Bishkek on Tuesday reversed incoming premier Japarov’s 11.5-year conviction for hostage-taking and other crimes that he began serving in 2018.

Banks and many shops and restaurants were closed in central Bishkek, with storeowners removing their goods over looting fears.

Mines targeted

Weakened security after uprisings in 2005 and 2010 saw criminal gangs target mining enterprises that are typically in remote locations.

A spokeswoman for Alliance Altyn, which operates Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest gold mine, based in the western Talas region, told AFP that work at the mine had ceased work after a group of men broke into the premises and set fire to a processing unit.

“Our employees were not hurt, thank goodness. We cannot say yet when we will work again,” said spokeswoman Kasiyet Karacholkova.

On the same day, an enterprise that controls a vast coal mine in Naryn region said that their mine had been seized and their offices robbed by a criminal gang.

Business associations called on political parties to ensure stability in order to help businesses facing “huge losses” over the coronavirus pandemic in a joint letter.

Opposition supporters had poured onto Bishkek’s streets Monday to demand the president’s resignation and a re-run of Sunday’s poll that left three parties from the outgoing parliament out in the cold.

The peaceful demonstrations in Bishkek turned violent later after clashes with police.

Some protesters then marched to the State National Security Committee building where former president Atambayev was jailed.

Footage posted on social media showed the 64-year-old greeting supporters after he left jail, where he was serving an 11-year-sentence for his role in the illegal release from jail of a mob boss.

Mr Atambayev was once close with his successor Mr Jeenbekov, but the pair fell out shortly after the 61-year-old won 2017’s presidential election.

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Kyrgyzstan in Chaos After Protesters Seize Government Buildings

MOSCOW — Kyrgyzstan descended into political chaos on Tuesday after opposition groups seized control of Parliament and released their leaders from prison in protests over parliamentary elections they have denounced as rigged.

Under mounting pressure from the protesters, the country’s Central Electoral Commission annulled the results of the Sunday vote, a day after awarding the majority of seats to two political parties with ties to the president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Overnight, a small group of protesters broke away from the main body and tried to gain entry to the White House, the main government building that hosts the Parliament and the presidential administration. After the police tried to disperse them, hundreds more joined in the assault and soon took control, according to photos and video footage from the scene.

On Tuesday, the streets of Bishkek were littered with burned out cars and piles of stones, while photos emerged of the broken down gates to the White House. Inside the building, videos and photos showed broken glass and piles of debris, including government papers, with protesters wandering around the offices. In the city, residents began to form volunteer brigades to deter looters.

One person was killed and at least 680 injured during the protests, the country’s Health Ministry said.

Mr. Jeenbekov’s office said on Tuesday that he was willing to meet with the leaders of all 16 parties that had competed in the election, in an effort to ease the tensions.

But it was not clear that he was still in control of the situation Tuesday morning, as protesters captured more government buildings, according to reports from local news websites, and started appointing their own government officials. The mayors of Bishkek, the capital, and the country’s second leading city, Osh, said they were resigning.

The opposition freed Mr. Jeenbekov’s predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev, who had been serving an 11-year sentence on corruption charges he had denounced as politically motivated. The opposition also freed several other prominent political figures, including two former prime ministers.

Seen as a somewhat pro-Russian figure, Mr. Atambayev had made the decision to close the American military facility in Kyrgyzstan that from 2001 to 2014 supported American military operations in Afghanistan. Under Mr. Atambayev, Kyrgyzstan became a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. Mr. Jeenbekov, his successor, also tried to maintain good relations with Moscow.

A mountainous Central Asian nation of 6.3 million, Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet republic, next to China but strategically aligned with Russia. It has been the focus of geopolitical rivalry between Moscow, Beijing and Washington and other players since it gained independence after the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of political strife, fueled by regional differences between the country’s north and south and pervasive clan politics. Two of its presidents have been toppled in violent revolts over the past 15 years. Unlike its neighbors, it enjoys a pluralistic system of government but one that has proved unstable in crises.

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Kyrgyzstan Goes To Polls As Vote-buying Fears Rise

Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election got underway Sunday with observers and smaller parties warning that vote buying could spoil a rare competitive election in former Soviet Central Asia.

Surrounded by authoritarian states with rubber-stamp legislatures, elections in mountainous Kyrgyzstan offer a colourful and sometimes unpredictable contrast.

President Sooronbai Jeenbekov will be hoping for a cooperative parliament as he plans for life after his term ends in 2023, knowing that his own predecessor and former protege Almazbek Atambayev is currently languishing in jail.

With the coronavirus pandemic battering paltry incomes, many observers are warning that the stage is set for massive ballot fraud by well-resourced parties.

Svetlana Lavrova, a resident of the capital Bishkek, told AFP that she watched citizens arrive by minibus at a polling station where they were greeted and handed pieces of paper.

Observers have warned that what Lavrova called “bussing” could indicate a coordinated vote-buying effort on the part of well-resourced, pro-government parties.

“Am I alone in voting according to my conscience?” 55-year-old Lavrova asked.

An elderly woman looks through her ballot paper during early voting for Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election
 AFP / Vyacheslav OSELEDKO

An AFP correspondent saw several Mercedes minibuses parked outside a polling station in the Besh-Kungey village close to Bishkek, where dozens of soldiers were queing to vote.

The correspondent said that civilian voters in the same queue appeared to be dressed differently from residents of the village, and that well-built men in tracksuits were observing the queue.

The Central Election Commission said nearly 500,000 voters among the 3.5 million electorate changed their place of voter registration ahead of the polls.

Monitors have warned the figure could be yet another indicator of coordinated vote buying campaigns.

Map of Kyrgyzstan locating the capital Bishkek.

Map of Kyrgyzstan locating the capital Bishkek.

Polling stations across the country opened at 0200 GMT and will close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late on Sunday.

Sixteen parties are competing for seats in the 120-member legislature.

The Birimdik (Unity) party is viewed as loyal to Jeenbekov and includes the president’s brother and former parliamentary speaker Asylbek Jeenbekov among its candidates.

Supporters of the Birimdik (Unity) pro-government party wearing national 'Ak-kalpak' hats with flags ride horses on a road during a campaign event in the village of Koy-Tash, some 20 kms from the capital Bishkek

Supporters of the Birimdik (Unity) pro-government party wearing national ‘Ak-kalpak’ hats with flags ride horses on a road during a campaign event in the village of Koy-Tash, some 20 kms from the capital Bishkek

Its main rival, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland Kyrgyzstan), is associated with a powerful clan whose figurehead Rayimbek Matraimov — a former customs service official — was the target of anti-corruption protests last year.

Both parties have spoken in favour of further integration with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union bloc, which has raised the status of hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants working in Russia since Bishkek joined in 2015.

But Birimdik’s party chairman Marat Amankulov sparked indignation after comments emerged from last year of him saying it was “time to return” to Moscow’s fold.

Rivals accused him of undervaluing Kyrgyz independence.

In a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Sochi ahead of the vote, Jeenbekov warned of “forces” that wanted to “drive a wedge into the (Kyrgyz-Russian) alliance” — an apparent reference to a pro-sovereignty rally held in opposition to Amankulov’s comments in the capital Bishkek last Sunday.

On Friday, the state prosecutor said it was investigating a video widely distributed on messaging apps.

The video, which purported to show two male students from a top university secretly filmed in a hotel room, appeared to imply that opposition parties were supportive of homosexuality, which is deeply frowned on in the conservative country.

The opposition parties targeted in the video said this was an attempt to smear them ahead of the vote.

Popular uprisings unseating two authoritarian presidents in the space of five years were seen as the driving force behind a fresh constitution to curb authoritarian excess and contain political in-fighting in 2010.

Electoral laws dictate that no one party can take more than 65 seats in the legislature.

Presidents are limited to a single six-year term — a departure from the strongman trend seen in neighbouring China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Tensions between the president and his predecessor Atambayev grew following Jeenbekov’s electoral victory in 2017, peaking last year with a shootout at Atambayev’s residence between the former president’s armed supporters and state security forces trying to arrest him.

Atambayev was detained on charges of illegally releasing a crime boss from jail and jailed for 11 years in June.

He has also been charged in the murder of a special forces officer who died during the raid.

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Kyrgyzstan to join Russia to give rise to the new USSR?

Why do the people of Kyrgyzstan love Russia? Why does the West believe that Kyrgyzstan is an island of democracy in Central Asia? How is the spiral of history going to turn? Is it turning towards the new USSR or the revival of the Russian Empire? Pravda.Ru talked about it to Raimkul Attakurov, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of the Kyrgyz Diaspora in Moscow, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Fund for the Cultural Development of Peoples “Nomad”, Raimkul Attakurov.

“Many in Kyrgyzstan discuss a possibility of joining Russia. Do you think that the re-incorporation of Kyrgyzstan into Russia could give rise to the new USSR? Can it kick off the creation of the new  USSR or start a new integration of countries with Russia?”

“Historical development goes in spiral turns. The previous important point on this spiral was the collapse of the USSR. Now the next turn of the spiral cycle begins in a slightly different format, and it is international strategic objectivity that causes this to happen. Our nations need to take the current state of affairs both in the world and in our post-Soviet space into account – we need to have a closer look at what is happening in Belarus.

“Let’s hope that this is not going to tear Belarus apart, that the nation will not fall into dependence on Western forces. Let’s also hope that the crisis in Belarus will be settled in a positive perspective so that it does not affect the development of the Eurasian Economic Union.”

“There were several similar revolutions in Kyrgyzstan. Surprisingly, the West did not interfere too much in any of them. On the contrary, they admit in the West that Kyrgyzstan is a democracy that has fair and transparent elections. How do you explain this?”

“After the collapse of the Union, Kyrgyzstan was called an island of democracy in Central Asia. Apparently, we inherited it from our historical ancestors, back from the times of the Kyrgyz Kaganate from Altai to Europe. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan had seen important political changes, including last year or the year before last.

“I think that those changes could only contribute to the development of our country along the path of democratization. Naturally, each country develops in one way or another. We would not like other countries to experience what we had to experience. However, this is going to happen inevitably. Yet, it is better to take account of negative experience in our development and the entire historical process.”

“You are an expert of the Russian presidential commission for interethnic relations. What does this body do?”

“It has representatives of almost all national, diaspora public organizations that legally operate on the territory of the Russian Federation. Naturally, we discuss all issues that are relevant at a certain time, including issues related to COVID-19.”

“How many citizens of Kyrgyzstan are there in Russia now? How many Kyrgyz nationals left for their homeland during coronavirus-related restrictions?”

“About one million. During this time, more than 20,000 people left Russia by charter flights and bus routes with the help of our embassy.”

“Do you think they are going to return to the Russian Federation?”

“I think that some of them will, and when life goes back to normal, many new people will come to Russia.”

“One can hardly say that the coronavirus causes significant losses at this point. Why do you think everything went so smoothly, without large losses?”

“We have public organizations of regional, professional, age, gender type. There are, for example, women’s public organizations not only in Russia, but they also have branches in the republic. They coordinated work with fellow countrymen to counter the spread of the coronavirus infection.

Kyrgyz people in Russia

“We even know where infected individuals live. Organisations help those people. They provide assistance with insurance, food, permission, rent and further employment. We cooperate closely with the embassy. Of course, those who have settled well and firmly in Russia, they do not want to leave.”

“What stance does Kyrgyzstan share as far as membership in the Eurasian Union is concerned? How do you assess possibilities for further integration?”

“Many countries wish to join the Eurasian Economic Union today – even those that are far from this group, for example, India and Pakistan. We gradually advocate integration and strengthening of our common cooperation in the format of the Eurasian Economic Union.

Naturally, each country has its own approaches, opinions and positions. I think this is a completely reasonable and objective process, but we must not repeat the mistakes of the past, when everyone agrees to everything at once – this mat at times lead to disastrous consequences. I think that the future of the Eurasian Economic Union is good and promising.

“The Kyrgyz do not say much, but they do a lot for this integration. Unlike many other countries, Kyrgyzstan has no claims to the Russian Federation. Other countries see integration as a move to obtain more privileges and receive financial help. There is no nationalism there.”

“Indeed, Kyrgyzstan is the only country of the former USSR where Russian has the status of a state, constitutional language. It is the people of Kyrgyzstan who support this idea. Of course, the presence of Kyrgyzstan in the Eurasian Economic Union shows a positive effect in many directions.”

Is Kyrgyzstan going back to Russia?

“This, in particular, makes it easier for migrant workers to find a job in Russia. They don’t need a patent for that, they do not have to pass exams, so they have no other problems. After all, the population of Kyrgyzstan communicate mostly in Russian.

Our diaspora community works very amicably and actively. We are in close cooperation with:

  • the Moscow government,

  • the State Duma,

  • the Public Chamber,

  • the House of Nationalities

  • and other organizations that oversee these issues.

We also carry out the work that, to some extent, contributes to the education of young people, our labor migrants who come to Russia.

Russia and Kyrgyzstan have been together for many centuries. We share common history and, hopefully, we share a future. Now many people in Kyrgyzstan want to turn to the Russian Federation in order to become part of Russia as one of its republics. Of course, this cannot be done immediately and quickly. Yet, in my opinion, this is a path that we should follow.

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