Crossroads Asia | Politics | Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan Working Toward New Elections Under New Rules

Kyrgyzstan looks likely to have a new parliament election sometime in December and a presidential poll in January. It may also have a constitutional referendum.

Catherine Putz
Kyrgyzstan Working Toward New Elections Under New Rules
Credit: Catherine Putz

After a disastrous election and a pseudo-revolution, Kyrgyzstan — under new leadership — is ostensibly headed for a new parliamentary election and a presidential election by early 2021. And, as suggested by interim President Sadyr Japarov to a Russian TV channel, Kyrgyzstan may also conduct a constitutional referendum, which would allow him to actually run for the presidency.

That’s a lot of voting after an election botched by vote-buying sent protesters into the streets. Kyrgyzstan’s political upheaval since the October 4 election is truly head-spinning, with a recently jailed convicted kidnapper now interim president after pressuring President Sooronbay Jeenbekov to resign shortly after signing approval on Japarov’s election as prime minister by a parliament past its time. 

Kyrgyz expect to go back to the polls soon, but precisely when and how much the rules change by the new election day(s) is a matter of much debate.

The October 4 election results were annulled by the Central Election Commission on October 6. Thus, the parliament elected in 2015 remains in its seats until a new election. 

On October 16, the CEC’s head — Nurzhan Shaildabekova — told journalists that new elections could be scheduled for December 20. A few days later, the CEC said that the election would be scheduled only after amendments to the country’s electoral laws were passed by the existing parliament. 

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The October 4 election was conducted with a 7 percent national threshold. That meant that for any party to secure seats in the parliament it had to gather at least 7 percent of the national vote, with a considerably lower regional threshold in place, too. Among the world’s parliamentary systems, Kyrgyzstan’s national threshold was a fairly high mark. In the October 4 election only four parties passed the 7 percent post: Birimdik (Unity) with 24.9 percent, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland is Kyrgyzstan) with 24.27 percent, the Kyrgyzstan Party with 8.9 percent, and Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) with 7.25 percent. 

The relevant Kyrgyz parliament committee put forward a proposal to lower the threshold to 3 percent, as well as bringing down the mandatory deposit parties must make to run, according to 24.kg. But according to RFE/RL’s reporting lawmakers approved amendments moving the threshold from 7 to 5 percent.

If the October 4 election had been run with a 5 percent threshold, Mekenchil and Respublika would have cleared it to enter parliament. If it had been run with a 3 percent threshold, an additional five parties (Mekenchil, Respublika, Ata-Meken, Yiman Nuru, and Bir Bol) would have made it into the body.

After the new parliamentary election, Kyrgyzstan will have a presidential election — triggered by Jeenbekov’s October 15 resignation. When Jeenbekov resigned, Speaker of Parliament Kanat Isayev should, constitutionally, have become interim president. But Isayev stepped aside as Japarov’s supporters chanted “Arrest Kanat Isayev!” in the streets of Bishkek. After Jeenbekov resigned, Japarov declared “all power is in my hands from now on.”

The CEC has set a rough peg for a presidential election to January 17, but as with the new parliament elections that could also shift in the coming weeks. 

According to the current constitution, an interim or acting president cannot take part in a presidential election. This rule is in place to prevent a person holding the powers of the presidency from influencing the process. But last week, speaking to Russia-24, a state-owned TV channel, Japarov said parliament was working on changes that could allow him to run.

“Currently, parliament is working on changes to be introduced to the law on presidential and parliamentary elections. If such amendments allow me to take part in the [presidential] election I will go for it. But, it is early to talk about it now, the decision on that issue is pending,” he said.

Such a change would require a constitutional referendum — yet another appointment with a ballot box for Kyrgyz citizens.

Along with firm dates and rules, there remain ever more questions. One critical question is whether the two parties accused of the vote-buying that ruined the October 4 election will be allowed to run again. The Reforma party has asked the Kyrgyz Ministry of Justice to disband Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, as well as the Kyrgyzstan party. Whether that will actually happen is unclear. 

If through all this, you were wondering how a convicted kidnapper could rise to the top echelon of power within days of being busted from jail by a mob of people, that’s a good question, too. Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court, 24.kg reports, has acquitted Japarov and his accomplices Talant Mamytov and Kamchybek Tashiev. On October 16, Japarov chose Tashiev to head the State Committee for National Security (GKNB), the country’s powerful security body tasked with combatting both terrorists and criminals.

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Tashiev pledged to launch an investigation into Raimbek Matraimov — a former deputy customs official spoken of in the same tones as mafia bosses elsewhere. Matraimov was at the center of a massive corruption scandal exposed by OCCRP, RFE/RL and Kloop last November and subsequent reports released in 2020. The Matraimov family was believed to be bankrolling Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, on whose party roll his brother was listed. Whether Tashiev and the Kyrgyz government competently follow through with such aims or make a meaningless show of it is an important question that only time will answer.