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On Eve Of Elections, What Have Kyrgyz Gained From Their 2020 Revolution?


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.

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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