Kyrgyzstan set for new election following popular uprising

Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission has annulled the results of a parliamentary election held on October 4 following a day and night of violent clashes in the capital Bishkek, during which demonstrators broke into the country’s parliament. The election now looks set to be re-run.

Video footage widely distributed on social media showed people in the office of the country’s president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and throwing paper from windows. Parts of the parliament building at one stage appeared to be on fire. One person died and nearly 600 were injured in the unrest, according to the country’s health ministry.

Protesters also managed to release Kyrgyzstan’s former president, Almazbek Atambayev, who was being held in a remand centre awaiting trial for what the opposition has long claimed are false corruption charges. Mr Atambayev is one of Kyrgyzstan’s wealthiest people, although the source of his wealth remains largely unknown.

The protests began almost immediately after partial results of the election were announced, early on October 5. Amid allegations of massive vote-rigging, the Central Election Commission said that just four of the 16 sixteen parties which contested the election had passed the seven per cent threshold to enter parliament. Three of the four are close to Mr Jeenbekov.

The president initially appealed for a return to order, accusing “certain political forces” of attempting to illegally seize power, but appears to have agreed to cancel the election results following a meeting with opposition party leaders.

International election observers, including the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that the accusations of vote-rigging and vote-buying were “credible”.

“We received numerous credible reports from interlocutors throughout the country about instances of vote buying and abuse of administrative resources,” the observers said in their report. “However, most often interlocutors informed us that they had no trust that such cases would be effectively resolved and thus did not file complaints.”

One opposition candidate, Ryskeldi Mombekov, told a crowd of more than 5,000 protesters that: “The president promised to oversee honest elections. He didn’t keep his word.”

Mr Mombekov’s party, Ata Meken, had been confident of entering parliament, but in the end it was one of the many that fell short of the threshold. Ata Meken leader Janar Akaev suffered a leg injury in the protests on Monday.

“[These] protests were the largest since April 2010 because up till now the parliament, however imperfect, settled most disputes among political factions. But this pattern was disrupted by pro-government parties who stole the elections despite formidable competition,” says Erica Marat, an associate professor at the US Department of Defence’s College of International Security Affairs.

Kyrgystan has twice before seen presidents toppled by popular revolt. In 2005, Askar Akayev, a president accused by the opposition of nepotism, corruption and authoritarianism, was deposed in what was known as the Tulip Revolution. He was replaced by Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who concentrated power within his family and allegedly plundered state funds and secured lucrative contracts for friends and relatives. Human rights abuses were widespread as dissidents were killed or disappeared. Journalists were muzzled and often detained.

In April 2010, it was Bakiyev’s turn to suffer the wrath of the people. A rise in utility prices proved to be the final straw and a swift, violent rebellion broke out in Bishkek. In less than two days, 85 people were killed, the centre of the capital was looted and Bakiyev was gone.

A new constitution, strengthening the role of parliament, was adopted later in 2010 and elections – broadly accepted as free and fair – held. An election in 2015 also passed without major incident.

Erica Marat however says that treating in 2005, 2010 and 2020 in the same manner is simplistic and unhelpful.

“The dynamics after 2010 were very different from 2005 and now the goals of the protests and context were also not the same,” she says. “The country is subject to all the modern problems of corruption, capital flight, enormous coercive apparatus, and lack of effective institutions. But a critical part of the public is trying again and again to create a free society represented by elected officials.”

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