Kyrgyz authorities have set a date for what promises to be a monumental presidential election: November 19, 2017. Although the polls are a full nine months away, contenders are already stating their intentions to run, including two former prime ministers. Unlike every other presidential election in the region, Kyrgyzstan’s vote this fall is far from predetermined.
Who will take over from President Almazbek Atambayev?
Atambayev is barred from running by the constitution which limits the president to a single, six-year term. Constitutional changes passed via referendum late last year were controversial, and in part will impact the balance between the president and the prime minister. It’s to be seen how this may or may not impact the election.
Atambayev was elected in 2011 and took over from interim President Roza Otunbayeva. Although the two have had a falling out since, the former allies conducted Kyrgyzstan’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power and Atambayev will be looking to repeat that process. Figures from the interim government and 2010 revolution are likely to be key contenders.
First to declare was recent Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, 58. The announcement was made on February 4 during a conference of his party, Ak Shumkar.
Sariyev, in 2010, as Bruce Pannier put it, wasted no time in jumping his party into the parliamentary election that year — the date was announced shortly after the country’s new constitution was approved following the revolution that booted Bakiyev. Although Ak Shumkar ultimately fell below the threshold necessary to enter the parliament, Sariyev was appointed Economy Minister. In May 2015 he was made prime minister. But — following a long-running trend of short-lived PMs — he was forced to resign in April 2016 after being pegged as the center of a corruption scandal involving Chinese companies and road project contracts.
As EurasiaNet notes, Sariyev shepherded much of Kyrgyzstan’s ascension to the Eurasian Economic Union (though left office before Bishkek membership was official) and remains a believer in the project.
In subsequent days, more contenders have stepped forward to join Sariyev in the race to the Kyrgyz White House.
On February 10, the 43-year-old leader of the Onuguu-Progress party, Bakyt Torobayev, threw his hat in. Torobayev’s party, positioned as centrist, broke from the ruling coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) last October over the issue of the constitutional referendum but nevertheless has been clear in its support for non-revolutionary changes in power. According to 24.kg, in announcing his candidacy, Torobayev said “Our time has come. The time of new politicians.”
On February 13, 24.kg reported that SDPK would front Kubanychbek Kulmatov, current head of the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund, as the party’s nominee. Kulmatov was less committed when asked, saying “I don’t know whether my candidacy put forward. This is such a sensitive issue. There are other good guys. I have a little daughter, I want to see her wedding,”
On February 14, Respublika-Ata Jurt voted to back another former prime minister, Omurbek Bababov. Bababov, 47, filled in as acting prime minister in 2011 when Atambayev, at the time the prime minister, was running for the presidency. He then served as prime minister from December 2011 to September 2012, when a scandal involving a gifted horse prompted his resignation. Respublika-Ata Jurt may officially be in the parliamentary opposition, but has seldom challenged the dominant SDPK’s positions. Bababov, as EurasiaNet notes, may have accidentally become a Kazakh citizen in the mid-1990s, “an issue with shades of the Barack Obama birth certificate scandal.”
There has never been an election in Central Asia like the election that is shaping up in Kyrgyzstan. November’s presidential poll has potential to be honestly competitive, and hopefully the candidates and parties will lay out thorough platforms and plans to confront the state’s many challenges. Kyrgyz citizens will have plenty to consider.