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Politics

Kyrgyzstan faces political vacuum as president denounces 'coup'

Tainted election results declared invalid in bid to quell unrest

A demonstrator wears the Kyrgyzstan national flag during a protest against the results of a parliamentary election in the capital Bishkek on Oct. 6.   © Reuters

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- A chaotic night of revolt in Kyrgyzstan, in which protestors stormed the president's office and other key government buildings, has plunged the country into an uncertain political future, with no clear picture of who is in charge of the country.

Embattled President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, whose exact whereabouts remain unknown at the time of writing, issued a video address on Tuesday accusing "certain political forces" of staging a coup and trying "to illegally seize state power."

He went on to offer an olive branch, suggesting the Central Election Commission investigate the electoral violations. The commission obliged a few hours later by annulling the election results.

But the move is seen by some analysts as too little, too late to save the day. The post-election unrest marks a return to political instability in the impoverished mountainous state that borders China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Around 4,000 demonstrators from across the spectrum of Kyrgyzstan's opposition gathered Monday in Ala-Too Square in the center of the capital Bishkek as the results of an election that observers called out for suspected rigging. The square is famous as the launching pad in 2005 and 2010 for civil disorder that led to the overthrow of the sitting presidents. 

The protestors were angry at Sunday's parliamentary poll that was marred by "credible allegations of vote buying," according to the European ODIHR observer mission's preliminary report on the election, and other dirty tricks. Of the sixteen parties that took part in the vote, only five had passed the 7% threshold to enter parliament, according to the latest available figures from a hand count of the votes.

The frontrunners with around 25% of the vote each, were Birimdik, closely tied to Jeenbekov, and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, funded by Raimbek Matraimov, a former top customs official turned powerful oligarch who is alleged to have made his fortune from a cross-border smuggling ring.

As darkness fell, a group of protestors attempted to storm the gates of the White House, a landmark building that houses the president's office. They were met by riot police firing tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon. One protester died in the melee and hundreds were hospitalized, including some high-profile opposition politicians, but as the night wore on the protesters continued to regroup and by dawn the White House was overrun. The demonstrators then went on to take control of other key government facilities including the headquarters of the state security services.

Kate Mallinson, a political risk consultant at London-based Prism Political Risk Management, sees the move to call the elections invalid as unlikely to fully stabilize the volatile situation in Kyrgyzstan.

"The country is likely to witness protracted political turbulence until the rescheduled elections, currently planned for the end of November, and beyond, as the different groups and players in the north and south of the country vie for influence, particularly in the event of Jeenbekov's possible resignation," Mallinson told Nikkei Asia.

While question remarks remain over the president's future - it is still not clear whether he has been overthrown and he has not offered his resignation -- Mallinson feels that there is a clear appetite among the public for him to leave the presidency.

"Although he is showing no signs of relinquishing power there is a high probability that he will be forced to resign within a few days," added the consultant. "Russia could play a decisive role in his longevity as president -- as of yet, President [Vladimir] Putin has not made a call of support to Jeenbekov."

Jeenbekov had hoped to consolidate his power through the Birimdik party but is now facing a future as uncertain as his country's. He is at the mid-point in his single six-year term and saw Birimdik, headed by his younger brother Asylbek, as smoothing the eventual transition of power. Now he will be warily looking at the fate of his predecessors, two of whom are in exile, but he may be more concerned about the fate of his immediate predecessor Almazbek Atambayev, who was jailed under his watch.

Amid the confusion in the aftermath of the failed election, ex-president Atambayev was freed from detention by protestors in the night. Jeenbekov's one-time mentor turned sworn enemy, was handed an 11-year jail term in June after being found guilty of ordering the unlawful release of an imprisoned gangland boss back in 2013. Two other high-profile political figures from the Atambayev era, Sapar Isakov and Sadyr Japarov, were also sprung from jail during the night's unrest.

Kyrgyzstan's government continues to function, albeit with some new faces. But moves are afoot for a possible transition of power with many opposition leaders putting their credentials forward, with some lawmakers proposing Japarov for Prime Minister.

Adding to this potent political mix, Adakhan Madumarov, leader of the nationalist Butun Kyrgyzstan party, announced on Tuesday that he would be heading a Coordination Council formed by some of the opposition parties that took part in the vote. Earlier Madumarov criticized the election for having "violations at every turn" and slammed the government for holding "the most unfair, dirtiest elections in the entire history of Kyrgyzstan."

As things stand, Mallinson sees "no obvious winners of the crisis" but regards "the unity of different opposition leaders in opposing the purloined vote by pro-government forces" as a positive step, especially "if new, younger faces are allowed to enter the government."

"However, initial 'self-appointments' by the opposition suggest otherwise," she added.

As the post-electoral drama unfolds in Kyrgyzstan, officials across the border in Tajikistan will be hoping for a smoother affair as the country goes to polls for a presidential election on Oct. 11. President Emomali Rahmon, who has ruled the country since 1992, is set to secure a fifth seven-year term. The main question to be decided will be whether he can better the 84% of the vote he won in 2013.

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