Trouble on the silk road: Kyrgyzstan’s democracy hanging by a thread

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Kyrgyzstan, a nation bordered by China and held under strong Russian influence, faces its third revolution in 29 years. The 4th October election was set to be a fair and democratic process after the republic’s constitution was amended in 2016, bolstering Parliament’s political power. The President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, stated prior to polling that there was “strong political competitiveness.” The 57.4% landslide for the three pro presidential parties and subsequent widespread civil unrest do not tie into Jeenbekov’s assessment. The Kyrgyz media site Kloop news —shortly after the result — reported that the pro-presidential party Mekenim Kyrgyzstan were offering voters $25 to cast their vote in favour of the major parties. In a nation where the monthly minimum wage is $14, financial needs took precedence over political sentiment. 

The Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned having failed to withhold the integrity of the constitution; yet his subjugation to opposition left a power vacuum in the Jogorku Kenesh. 

Strong opposition to the election results was felt both on the streets of Bishkek and within the Jogorku Kenesh (supreme council). Within twenty-four hours, the Ala-Too square was flooded with up to ten thousand people protesting the result of the election. Simultaneously all 12 opposition parties jointly declared that they would not acknowledge the results of the vote. Having learnt from the violent revolution of 2010, the Government and President immediately conceded. The Central Election Commission decided on Tuesday 6th October to annul the results of the vote and set in motion the disbandment of Jeenbekov’s government. The Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov resigned having failed to withhold the integrity of the constitution; yet his subjugation to opposition left a power vacuum in the Jogorku Kenesh. 

The governing seat of Kyrgyzstan was in sight and old allegiances rose to the surface; ex-president Almazbek Atambayev and populist politician Sadyr Japarov were freed from prison by supporters and fronted two political factions set on seizing power. Atambayev and Japarov were serving 11-year sentences for corruption and kidnapping, respectively. The protestors had become fragmented in their motivations, no longer were they united by the shared desire to bring down the government and impeach Jeenbekov. 

Bishkek was plunged into a state of lawlessness as the two mobs openly battled on the streets for political advantage. As of Friday 9th October, the bitter clashes had resulted in 1,200 injuries and one death according to health ministry figures. Government buildings were ransacked, and municipal property destroyed with an estimate cost of 17 million soms. The situation escalated on Friday afternoon when protestors witnessed gunshots fired into the side of Atambayev’s vehicle as he was leaving a rally. Jeenbekov had not stirred throughout the course of the week despite the deepening crisis, nor was there any military presence in Bishkek. Protestors were allowed to run riot through the city.

Despite ten years of constitutional reform Kyrgyzstan remains subject to Russia’s agenda

The arrival of the weekend saw an about turn in Jeenbekov’s desire to cling on to power in the region. On Friday evening the President accepted that his voluntary resignation was necessary in restoring order and that the protocol should be to enact a transition of power. A state of emergency was announced on Friday at 8pm until October 21st; a set of strict measures were put in place to curb further violence including regular military patrols to disperse rallies and monitor the new 9pm to 5am curfew. The parliamentary vote on Thursday evening to instate Japarov as Prime Minister had fallen through as a quorum was not attained. Urgent talks took place on Friday evening at a three-star hotel to address the situation, with Jeenbekov present, parliamentary members voted in proxy to establish Japarov as the new Prime Minister. The opposition from Atambayev’s supporters was quelled the next day when their figurehead was arrested on charges of inciting unrest. 

The rapid pace at which the quasi-revolution was disbanded, and leadership restored begs the question: why wasn’t the unrest stamped out sooner? The explanation exposes a paradigm in the geopolitics of Kyrgyzstan. On Wednesday Omurbek Suvanaliev, the deputy secretary of the security council, faced overt pressure from the Kremlin to stabilise the situation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated at a briefing that “The situation looks like a mess and chaos” while emphasizing Russia’s obligation to step in if there was reasonable evidence that a total breakdown of the Government was possible. As Kyrgyzstan is an ex-soviet state, Russia holds an airbase thus the threat of intervention was very real to Jeenbekov. Despite ten years of constitutional reform Kyrgyzstan remains subject to Russia’s agenda, the Kremlin are desperate to maintain pseudo democratic and loyal administrations in the region to preserve their political influence.

Is Japarov’s promotion to Prime Minister really a victory for the people of Kyrgyzstan? Superficially yes, the populist politician has been given a retrial due to doubts over the allegations, a sign justice is beginning to run its course, and an unfit government has been ousted from its position. However, to take control of the political narrative the status quo must be challenged within the Jogorku Kenesh and not on the streets of Bishkek. Japarov has promised a rerun of the elections in two months and this time the opposition holds precedence. Those in the “Soviet” sphere of influence will be following these elections closely as they will determine whether a democracy can survive under the watchful eye of Putin. 

Image: Ben Paarmann via Flickr

One thought on “Trouble on the silk road: Kyrgyzstan’s democracy hanging by a thread

  • Спасибо за информацию.

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