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As the Dust Settles from Kyrgyzstan’s Election, What Next?

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As the Dust Settles from Kyrgyzstan’s Election, What Next?

As Kyrgyzstan’s new parliament takes shape, Japarov has the government he asked for. Now for the hard part: governing.

As the Dust Settles from Kyrgyzstan’s Election, What Next?
Credit: Catherine Putz

While the final results have yet to be released, the shape of Kyrgyzstan’s new parliament has become more clear a week after the vote. With it, Kyrgyzstan marks the end of a political transition triggered after October 2020’s parliamentary election set off protests. President Sadyr Japarov sits at the top of a government transformed by referendum into a powerful presidential system, and over a population some would argue is worried more about winter than politics.

The buck, as the saying goes, stops with Japarov now.

“We’ve seen the conclusion of the political transition, now it’s time to govern,” remarked former Kyrgyz Ambassador to the United States Kadyr Toktogulov during an event jointly organized by RFE/RL and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

According to the latest tabulations, six parties will enter the parliament, splitting 54 seats among them: Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan (15), Ishenim (12), Yntymak (9), Alyans (7), Butun Kyrgyzstan (6), and Yiman Nuru (5). Most of the parties are new, with Butun Kyrgyzstan the only one analysts characterize as opposition. Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan, Ishenim and Yntymak are often referred to as pro-government, largely because their party lists include members formerly associated with the Japarov’s Mekenchil, which did not run candidates in the election.

“To me, that looks like a solidifying of the power of [head of the State Committee for National Security Kamchybek] Tashiev and Japarov, in the parliament as well,” commented Aijan Sharshenova, a postdoctoral research fellow at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek during the same event mentioned above. “Because one of them runs the country and the other runs the security services and now they have affiliated persons running the parliament… the parliament will not be particularly difficult for the current government.”

Sharshenova added, however, that political alliances in Kyrgyzstan are notoriously fickle. Sharshenova later mentioned that all of this motion of the surface of Kyrgyz politics ties into an opaque background arena where the financial backers operate. That realm of big businessmen, corrupt officials, and organized crime, however, is difficult to parse and shrouded in rumor. 

The remaining 36 seats in the parliament will be filled by individual candidates elected in single-mandate races tied to geographic constituencies. Only 34 have been elected, however, because in two Bishkek districts the “against all” option won the election, meaning those two seats are empty until after to-be-scheduled re-elections. 

As reported, among the single-mandate victors are 10 who previously occupied seats in the parliament – all from parties that didn’t run in the party-list election or didn’t win any seats in the new parliament. Having been directly-elected, Toktogulov suggested that these individuals may therefore be more accountable to their constituents. Among those elected to single-mandate seats are Dastan Bekeshev, previously a deputy in the Social Democratic Party faction, who has been outspoken against the Japarov government in the past and the son of former President Almazbek Atambayev, Seid Atambayev. Iskender Matraimov, the brother of much-discussed Raimbek Matraimov, also won a seat.

It’s hard, at this juncture, to predict how the new Kyrgyz parliament will behave. Under the new constitution, its powers are diminished but it may nevertheless present an arena for discussion. What isn’t so difficult is outlining the challenges facing Japarov and his government, most prominently the coming winter, but also the pandemic, the economy, and occasionally tense relations with neighboring Tajikistan. Electricity and heating through the winter are major concerns at the present moment. Following a drought this summer, Kyrgyzstan’s reservoirs are critically low, and shortages and rationing are expected through the winter.

While it’s often said that Japarov is broadly popular (and a recent IRI poll suggested as much), RFE/RL’s Bruce Pannier commented that the parliamentary election’s low turnout – around 34 percent of eligible voters participated – is “like a trap waiting to be sprung in the future.” Pannier highlighted electricity and food prices as key issues for Japarov to manage if the president hopes to avoid facing popular discontent. Previous rounds of political instability in Kyrgyzstan were triggered, in part, by such issues: For example, a bad winter in 2009-2010, with outages and rising utility prices, prefaced the ousting of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the spring of 2010; and the early January 2018 failure of Bishkek’s main power plant set off the chain of events that landed former President Atambayev in jail.

With Japarov’s increased powers, comes increased responsibility. 

“Given the situation, both domestically and internationally,” Sharshenova said. “[Japarov has] a very very thin window of opportunity to change anything, and to make things better.”