At one point in time, Omurbek Babanov looked like a real contender for the Kyrgyz presidency. Six months after losing the election, however, Babanov is a fugitive. Last week, the authorities in Bishkek launched a new salvo, accusing Babanov of plotting to instigate riots and seize power.
According to RFE/RL, Rakhat Sulaimanov, spokesman for the State Committee for National Security (GKNB or UKMK), said Babanov is suspect of plotting riots and a coup.
Such a suggested power grab has haunted Babanov and his supporters since the October 15 election, which was won by outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev’s choose successor Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
The day after the election, Babanov lamented the dirty campaign, saying, “State television channels were used to pour dirt on us. There was a black PR [campaign] against us. Our campaign activists were abused; they did not know whom to turn to as law enforcement was also one-side.”
He went on to directly confront the suggestion that he would call on his supporters to take to the streets to contest the results by saying, “This is not true. We will not seize power. Our victory is to come. These elections made me and my team stronger.”
For a country that saw two street protest-driven revolutions in the span of 10 years, Babanov’s denial — and the possibility that even in defeat his political star could continue to rise — still sounded like a threat to the authorities.
The election was marred by mudslinging, much of it directed at Babanov. Atambayev suggested Kazakhstan was meddling with Kyrgyz politics via Babanov, plunging cross-border relations to a new low until after the election. More powerful in the Kyrgyz context, however, were the allegations that Babanov had incited ethnic hatred in a September 28 speech in Osh.
As Eurasianet reported at the time:
Crowds of people in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad picketed Babanov’s local campaign headquarters on September 30 in protest over excerpts from a speech the candidate gave two days earlier in Osh. Sections of the speech circulated on social media in which Babanov appeared to utter the phrases “better to die standing than to live on your knees,” and “if any policeman touches an Uzbek, he will be fired.”
Both comments were interpreted as evidence of Babanov’s covert sympathy for the Uzbek minority — a politically fatal stance for any presidential hopeful in Kyrgyzstan.
The GKNB opened a formal investigation.
On September 30, two weeks before the election, the GKNB arrested Kanatbek Isayev, an opposition lawmaker and Babanov supporter, on charges that he was planning a coup if Babanov lost.
Isayev had already been under investigation, for corruption charges and on January 4, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of corruption relating to the illegal sale of a library building in 2010 when he was mayor of Tokmok, a city just east of Bishkek. On March 27, the day before the GKNB announced the new charges against Babanov, AKIPress reported that the court had ordered the detention of all defendants in Isayev’s coup plot case to be extended through April 30.
Shortly after the election, Babanov left Kyrgyzstan and resigned his parliament seat.
Babanov responded to the new charges on Facebook, saying he and his supporters never had the intention to seize power. He pointed out that after the election, he didn’t even stage peaceful protests.