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A man rides a horse past campaign posters for candidates in Kyrgyzstan's upcoming parliamentary elections in the village of Arashan, some 25 kilometers south of the capital, Bishkek.

Voters in Kyrgyzstan return to the polling stations on November 28 for the fourth time in less than 14 months, this time to vote for a new parliament.

The elections are a repeat of the failed parliamentary vote held on October 4, 2020, that was quickly annulled by the Central Election Committee (BShK) amid protests over campaign violations and unfair voting practices on election day.

A referendum held in April 2021 changed the constitution and the structure of Kyrgyzstan’s unicameral parliament.

The outgoing parliament has 120 deputies, but the new chamber will have only 90.

The system for electing new deputies has also changed, with 54 deputies being chosen from party lists and the remaining seats to be decided in single-mandate districts that were drawn up in September so that each one has some 80,000 eligible voters. Some districts have 17 candidates and one district -- Uzgen voting district no. 12 -- has one candidate.

That requires voters to cast two separate ballots for candidates.

Voters will choose one of the candidates running in their district as well as one of the 21 different parties that are on the ballot.

The party list ballot is also more involved than usual as voters will select a party and also choose a particular candidate from that party by putting a mark in one of the 54 boxes on the right side of the ballot.

Should a voter mark the box for a party but fail to tick a box for a specific candidate, that vote goes to the first name on the party’s list.

Of the 21 parties competing in these elections, only five appeared on last year’s ballot: Ata-Meken (Fatherland), Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan, Yyman Nuru (Ray of Faith), the Social-Democrats, and Ordo (the Center).

The Kyrgyzstan party, which had won seats in parliament in the 2010, 2015, and 2020 parliamentary elections (where it was one of the three winning parties), is not compete in these elections.

A Close Friend Of The President

Kamchybek Tashiev (left) at a Security Council meeting with President Sadyr Japarov on November 26.
Kamchybek Tashiev (left) at a Security Council meeting with President Sadyr Japarov on November 26.

Kamchybek Tashiev, who is currently the head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (UKMK) and a close friend of President Sadyr Japarov, once headed the Ata-Jurt (also Fatherland) party (known now as Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan).

Another party some view as pro-presidential is the Yntymak (Harmony) party, which includes parliament speaker Talant Mamytov.

Talant Mamytov (file photo)
Talant Mamytov (file photo)

Mamytov is also a close friend of Japarov and Tashiev. The three were convicted together and imprisoned in 2013 for trying the overthrow the Kyrgyz government.

The Reforms party was an interesting newcomer in the October 2020 elections with the majority of its members being young and many also new to the Kyrgyz political scene.

They joined with Ata-Meken for these elections, and Reforms leader Klara Sooronkulova is among the first names on the party’s list of candidates. The Turan, Ak Kalpak (White Hat), and Egemen (Sovereign) Kyrgyzstan parties, and the Kanykey movement have also merged with Ata-Meken.

Omurbek Tekebaev (file photo)
Omurbek Tekebaev (file photo)

Only two parties, Ata-Meken (leader Omurbek Tekebaev) and Butun Kyrgyzstan (leader Adahan Madumarov) can be considered openly opposed to the current authorities. They have been strongly criticizing Japarov's policies during the campaign. All of the other parties have some relation to or connection with the government.

Adahan Madumarov (file photo)
Adahan Madumarov (file photo)

Other parties participating in the November elections have new names but are also filled with the members of parties that competed in the October 2020 elections but are not running this time.

Interesting Races

There are some very interesting races in single-mandate districts.

Current deputy Dastan Bekeshev is running in district no. 28 in Bishkek. Bekeshev has been something of the voice of morality in parliament and he has encountered some difficulties campaigning.

Dastan Bekeshev (file photo)
Dastan Bekeshev (file photo)

Since the start of November, Bekeshev has been called for questioning by the UKMK about schoolchildren taking part in his election campaign and by the military prosecutor’s office as a witness in the investigation into the Kumtor gold mine scandal.

The campaign slogan for Bekeshev -- who is legally blind -- is “I see the truth.”

Iskender Matraimov is also currently in parliament. He is the brother of alleged criminal figure Raimbek Matraimov.

Iskender Matraimov (file photo)
Iskender Matraimov (file photo)

Iskender Matraimov is running in voting district no. 9 in southern Kyrgyzstan’s Kara-Suu district, the same district where his brother Tilek was chief from 2012 to 2020.

Aybek Osmonov, the founder of three political parties -- Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, Yyman Nuru, and Bizdin Kyrgyzstan -- is running in district no. 7 in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Seidbek Atambaev, the son of imprisoned former President Almazbek Atambaev, is running in district no. 25 in Bishkek.

Attorney Nurbek Toktakunov had been one of the most vocal critics of the new constitution and argued before this year’s presidential election that Japarov should be barred from competing due to his previous conviction for attempting to overthrow the government. Toktakunov is running in district no. 27 in Bishkek.

Shaiyrbek Tashiev, the brother of UKMK chief Kamchybek Tashiev, is running for a seat in district no. 14 in the southern Jalal-Abad Province because, as he said, the people wanted him to do so.

Elmurza Satybaldiev -- who was prosecutor-general when Kurmanbek Bakiev was president and was convicted of involvement in the violence of April as 2010 Bakiev was ousted from power -- is competing in district no. 12 in the Uzgen district. A close ally of the ruling officials, he is assured of winning a seat as he is the only candidate running after all three of his competitors suspiciously dropped out.

Eligible voters will cast their ballots at one of 2,435 polling stations inside Kyrgyzstan or at one of 59 polling stations in 29 countries. Twenty of those are in Russia due to the great number of Kyrgyz migrant laborers working there.

Eligible Voters

Curiously, there are two different figures for the number of eligible voters. According to a preliminary list of voters from the BShK, there are 3,703,420 people registered to vote for parties, and 3,619,292 registered to vote in single-mandate districts.

That is apparently because some migrant laborers cannot vote for candidates in single-mandate districts, only for candidates on party lists.

One of the biggest questions now is how many people will actually cast ballots, as there seems to be some turnout burnout in Kyrgyzstan.

Voter turnout for the October 2020 parliamentary elections was some 56.5 percent.

The turnout for the presidential election and vote on whether the country should have a parliamentary or presidential system on January 10, 2021, was just over 39 percent, and the turnout for the April 11 referendum on a new constitution was less than 37 percent.

Some 730 international observers, 288 from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, are accredited to monitor the elections.

Polls in Kyrgyzstan open at 8 am and close at 8 pm.

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Azattyk, contributed to this report.
People protest during a rally against the results of a parliamentary vote in Bishkek on October 5, 2020.

The day after Kyrgyzstan conducted parliamentary elections on October 5, 2020, crowds poured into the streets and squares of the capital, Bishkek.

They protested corruption in the vote that produced a parliament dominated by government supporters.

But many also protested the system that failed to act against the abuses that were obvious during the campaign and on election day.

What many wanted -- particularly younger people -- on that day was something new, a clear departure from the same people carrying out politics as usual in Kyrgyzstan.

One Year Later

The elections on November 28 will be a rerun of the failed 2020 parliamentary elections, which were annulled by the Central Election Commission (BShK) on October 6.

By that time the government had already fallen and shortly thereafter, on October 15, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov resigned.

With the mandate of the parliamentary deputies due to expire on October 28, the BShK on October 17 proposed new parliamentary elections be conducted on December 20, 2020.

Instead, there have been elections in 2021 for president, local elections, a vote on whether to have a referendum to change the system of government (which was approved), and then the actual referendum on changing the constitution and taking Kyrgyzstan from a presidential-parliamentary to a purely presidential form of government.

And now Kyrgyzstan is finally going to vote for new deputies to replace the deputies who have stayed in parliament for more than a year after their terms officially expired and who approved many significant and sometimes controversial changes during that year.

What Is Parliament Now?

The adoption of a new constitution this year changed the structure and powers of parliament.

The number of seats in parliament will be reduced from the current 120 to 90, and in the upcoming elections 54 of those seats will be elected by party lists and 36 in single-mandate districts.

A "kuriltai," or people's council, was given official status and powers parallel to the parliament. This body can, for example, propose legislation.

The president has been given sweeping powers and can, among other things, appoint cabinet members, appoint or dismiss the prosecutor-general and judges, initiate laws and referendums, and strip parliamentary deputies of their immunity.

But parliament does remain a forum for politicians with an eye looking toward the future to maintain their public exposure.

There have been three revolutions in Kyrgyzstan since 2005 and the fortunes of Kyrgyzstan's leading political figures have changed many times.

Sadyr Japarov takes the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in Bishkek on January 28.
Sadyr Japarov takes the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in Bishkek on January 28.

Current President Sadyr Japarov is a perfect example. He was a deputy from 2007 to 2010, winning a seat as a candidate from the pro-presidential party Ak Jol, and was also a top official in the anti-corruption agency at that time.

Then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev was overthrown in April 2010, during Kyrgyzstan's second revolution.

Japarov was elected as deputy again in 2010 when he ran as a candidate from the Ata-Jurt party, but then he was arrested as he tried to storm the parliament building in October 2012. He was later tried and convicted of attempting to overthrow the government.

Japarov was released after a few months, but shortly later was accused of involvement in the attempted kidnapping of an official in the northeastern Issyk-Kul Province.

Japarov fled Kyrgyzstan, finally returning in 2017, whereupon he was arrested, tried, and convicted of attempted kidnapping and sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison.

And he was in a jail cell when the unrest started after the October 2020 parliamentary elections. Released from prison during the chaos of the uprising last year, Japarov was later elected president. He has now been in charge of the country since he accepted Jeenbekov's resignation.

The lesson of Japarov is nothing new in Kyrgyzstan. Other politicians have gone from parliament to prison to top positions in the government -- not necessarily always in that order -- as the case of former President Almazbek Atambaev shows.

Parliamentary elections are also important because there are always some deputies who use their positions to criticize government decisions.

And despite the president's new ability to strip lawmakers of their immunity, there will most likely still be some deputies who will publicly challenge some of Japarov's moves, and this gives voice to at least some public grievances and serves to check presidential authority.

Much Seems Too Familiar

In the 2020 parliamentary elections there were 16 parties competing. In these elections, there will be 21 parties competing, eight of which took part in the 2020 elections.

The Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan parties, which won 46 and 45 seats, respectively, in the 2020 elections, will not be on the ballot this time.

The other pro-government party, the Kyrgyzstan party, won 16 seats in the last parliamentary elections and is on the ballot again, teaming up with the Ata-Jurt party.

Ata-Jurt was once headed by Kamchybek Tashiev, currently the chief of the State Committee for National Security (UKMK) and a longtime friend of Japarov. Ata-Jurt won the most seats in the 2010 elections (28) and the second-most seats (28) in the 2015 elections when it joined forces with the Respublika party.

Ata-Jurt did not participate in the 2020 elections, but some of its members joined other parties to run in those elections. Former members of Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan have done the same for the upcoming elections.

Also running as a candidate from the Ata-Jurt Kyrgyzstan party is Bakyt Torobaev, who is still the leader of the Onuguu-Progress party, formed in 2012, which is not taking part in the upcoming elections.

For those who last year were calling for lustration, the names of many candidates trying to win seats in the next elections must look frustratingly familiar.

Former speaker of parliament and Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev is running for a seat again, as is the former head of the Communist Party, Iskhak Masaliev, who ran as a candidate from Onuguu-Progress in 2015 and is running as a Butun Kyrgyzstan party candidate this time.

Adakhan Madumarov
Adakhan Madumarov

Butun Kyrgyzstan was the only opposition party to win seats in the 2020 elections and its leader, three-time presidential candidate Adakhan Madumarov, is running.

Another former speaker of parliament and onetime member of the Ata-Jurt party, Akhmatbek Keldibekov, is running as a candidate from the Azattyk party.

Current lawmaker Iskender Matraimov, brother of suspected underworld figure Raimbek Matraimov, is running in voting district No. 9 in the southern Kara-Suu district for a seat once held by his brother Tilek.

Iskender Matraimov
Iskender Matraimov

The list of retread politicians goes on and on.

It should also be noted that young politician Janarbek Akaev, 34, is a candidate in the Alyans party, which joins together the Bir Bol, Liberal Democratic Party, and Fair Kyrgyzstan parties. And entrepreneur Tilek Toktogaziev, 30, is a candidate in the Ata-Meken party. They are a few of the handful of candidates in their 30s who are participating.

For the many women who were hoping the ousting of the government in October 2020 would lead to more equal representation in a future government, the upcoming elections do not look promising.

Current legislation stipulates that at least 30 percent of the deputies must be women. But in practice that has not been the case.

The Bishkek Feminists group wrote in October 2020 that since roughly half the population is women, half the seats in parliament should go to women. That seems unlikely to happen in the upcoming elections, as only 377 of the 1,046 candidates competing are women.

When the revolution of October 2020 was hijacked by Japarov's supporters, the hopes of many young protesters -- and many women -- who were on the streets on October 5 and the days that followed were pushed aside.

These upcoming elections seem unable to do anything to fulfill the demands of a year ago. And that is dangerous, especially when the Japarov government is treading water at best, as there is little that could be called improvement in Kyrgyzstan since Japarov came to power.

Yet there are many signs of strain: from the struggling economy to the decrepit health-care system during the pandemic and security concerns along the border with Tajikistan and from Afghanistan.

Despite all of that, Japarov reportedly remains popular.

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About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Content draws on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad.

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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