As Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov marked three years in power this week, officials in his government confirmed that he’d seek a second term.
Deputy Prime Minister Edil Baisalov said Japarov would take part in the next election during an Azattyk program on January 29. “The constitution allows it, so he will not just abandon things halfway,” he said. “The people will not allow it either. The people have hope now. And in the next three years, they will witness significant achievements.” He said Japarov would not quote his job “halfway.”
Presidential spokesman Askat Alagozov confirmed it the next day, commenting that in light of the long-term, strategically important projects that the Japarov government has undertaken, “Japarov’s participation in the elections for a second term would be consistent with his policies.”
Japarov was elected in a snap presidential electron in January 2021 that occurred in tandem with the first of two constitutional referenda that year. Although Japarov’s interim government hoped to push through a sweeping referendum alongside the presidential election, that first referendum ultimately asked Kyrgyz voters one question: What form of government they supported. In essence, the questions was if the country should adopt (or rather, re-adopt) a presidential system, ditching the parliamentary system it had operated under since the referendum that followed the 2010 revolution.
Japarov was elected with 79.83 percent of the vote, and 84 percent of voters opted for a presidential system. Only 39 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. At the time he was elected, Kyrgyzstan’s constitution allowed for presidents to serve a single six-year term. This, too, was a standard set after the 2010 revolution.
A few months later, in April 2021, Kyrgyzstan held a second constitutional referendum, which asked voters to approve or nix an entirely new constitution giving form to the presidential system earlier selected. Dubbed the “Khanstitution,” the new law of the land shrank the parliament from 120 to 90 seats and created the national Kurultai, “a traditional people’s council with delegates from all regions of the country” that mirrors the parliament in some ways, although without voter input into the selection of members. The new constitution also, in grand Central Asian tradition, tinkered with the presidential term: Shifting from a single six-year term to two five-year terms. That referendum was approved by 85 percent of voters, although turnout was just 36 percent.
Given that Japarov was elected in 2021, under the old constitution, a presidential election is not expected until 2027. But across the region, elections don’t necessarily occur as scheduled. In Kyrgyzstan, early elections have typically come after revolutions, such as the early election that confirmed Japarov as president in 2021, and the 2011 election that brought Almazbek Atambeyv to power.
Elsewhere, early elections have occurred after massive political shifts or more often after referendums. For example, after Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, resigned in March 2019 – the chair of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, became president as the constitution mandated. But he soon called for a snap election to cement himself in power. Just three years later, after seeing through a constitutional referendum that, among other things, tinkered with the presidential term – ditching two five-year terms for a single seven-year term, Tokayev called for another early election and was reelected in November 2022.
Precisely why the topic of Japarov running for a second term has floated to the surface of political discourse at this moment is not clear.
The Kyrgyz government claims to have fended off repeated coup attempts, has busied itself with jailing opponents and journalists, and has done little to inculcate international goodwill by pushing forward a restrictive “foreign representatives” bill. There was also considerable drama (and eye-rolling) as the Kyrgyz parliament decided to redesigned the country’s flag.
Baisalov’s comment that Japarov would not quit his job “halfway” could just as easily be a reference to the two terms allowed under the present constitution, or to the three-year mark in a single six-year term to which Japarov was elected. There’s no doubt that Japarov will run for a second term; whether that comes sooner than 2027 is something only time will tell.