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A Hidden Force In Kyrgyzstan Hijacks The Opposition's Push For Big Changes


Who is behind Sadyr Japarov's sudden ascent to power in Kyrgyzstan?

One week ago, Kyrgyzstan's opposition parties were celebrating after their protest of what some called the "dirtiest" parliamentary elections ever forced the Central Election Commission to annul the October 4 results.

But now the opposition is divided and in disarray as their goal of installing a new government with fresh faces has been hijacked.

What exactly is happening in Kyrgyzstan?

Protests overnight on October 5-6 led to a crowd seizing the parliament building in Bishkek and demonstrators sat at the president's desk drinking tea while President Sooronbai Jeenbekov was nowhere to be found.

Many other government officials were also AWOL as a serious power vacuum emerged nationally and in several of Kyrgyzstan's cities and regions.

It seemed a prime opportunity for new politicians to enter the scene and hopefully begin a fight against the corruption that had engulfed many parts of society, including the parliamentary elections in which many people's votes apparently were bought or otherwise manipulated.

But the opposition lost its momentum in a fit of disunity and now finds itself in perhaps a worse situation than it was in when the election results were announced.

Snatching Defeat From The Yurts Of Victory

Early on October 6, Butun (United) Kyrgyzstan party leader Adakhan Madumarov was seen with leading figures from other parties. His party was the only one from the opposition to win seats in the October 4 elections where the vast majority had been won by pro-government parties.

The party leaders announced they had formed a Coordination Council that included at least eight of the opposition parties that had competed in the October 4 elections. The council would, presumably, try to form a new government, since the previous one had crumbled after the protests.

But that is where it all ended.

Worse, the unity shown by several leaders on October 6 quickly started to fray.

The next day there were three coordination councils -- each one wanting different things -- and the opposition parties participating in them often overlapped.

Others started taking up various government positions without any clear legal basis for doing so.

Omurbek Suvanaliev takes charge...for a while.
Omurbek Suvanaliev takes charge...for a while.

Omurbek Suvanaliev was a candidate from Butun Kyrgyzstan who had stepped down from his post as deputy secretary of the Security Council to run in the elections.

But on October 7 he was back in his position at the Security Council and was even speaking by phone with Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB).

It was unclear where the Security Council secretary was. But one day later, some media were referring to Suvanaliev as the "coordinator of power structures" in Kyrgyzstan.

It was unclear who had named Suvanaliev to this post.

Kursan Asanov was also a candidate from Butun Kyrgyzstan and on October 6 he was named acting interior minister and commandant of Bishkek, tasked with restoring order to the Kyrgyz capital. Asanov had previously been a deputy interior minister but, again, it was unclear on whose authority he was able to occupy either of those posts.

There were other examples, and it was never entirely clear who had authorized these people to take government positions.

The events that brought down the government had occurred at breakneck speed and caught everyone, including opposition parties, off-guard.

Opposition leaders were slow in coordinating and cooperating, but others with just as much interest in taking power seem to have appreciated there was a vacuum in governance.

Where Did He Come From?

On the evening of October 6, some 30 parliamentary deputies hastily arranged an extraordinary session at the Dostuk Hotel in Bishkek.

Some had arrived by plane earlier in the day from southern Kyrgyzstan.

The session was held with a large group of tough-looking men standing guard outside the hotel.

Deputy parliament speaker Mirlan Bakirov read out a resignation statement from speaker Dastanbek Jumabekov, then announced that 67-year-old Myktybek Abdyldaev would be the new speaker.

Who is backing Mirlan Bakirov?
Who is backing Mirlan Bakirov?

Bakirov ran as a candidate from the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan (My Homeland Kyrgyzstan) party in the October 4 elections as its top candidate.

Mekenim Kyrgyzstan won big in the elections, receiving 24.27 percent of the vote, a close second to the Birimdik (Unity) party that took the most votes with 24.9 percent.

Both parties were seen as pro-government.

There were many allegations of vote-buying in the weeks prior to the election, with most involving Mekenim Kyrgyzstan.

There have been accusations that Mekenim Kyrgyzstan is financed by businessman and alleged crime boss Raimbek Matraimov, who has been at the center of several lengthy reports by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kyrgyzstan's independent Kloop news website, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service (known locally as Azattyk).

One of his brothers, Iskender, is a deputy and was the No. 10 candidate on Mekenim Kyrgyzstan's party list.

Between the time of the storming of the parliament building and the meeting at the hotel, the Central Election Commission had officially annulled the results of the elections and said a date for new elections would be announced by November 6.

Back at the Dostuk Hotel, after reading out parliament speaker Jumabekov's resignation letter, Bakirov read out a similar resignation from Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov and proposed Sadyr Japarov as a candidate for prime minister.

Just 24 hours earlier, the 51-year-old Japarov was in prison, where he had been since March 2017.

He was convicted of hostage-taking in the northeastern town of Karakol in October 2013 after taking the provincial governor captive amid a protest against the local Kumtor gold-mining project and was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison.

Japarov had fled the country after the debacle in Karakol, staying in Kazakhstan for more than three years before being apprehended along the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border in March 2017.

It was an amazing reversal of fortune that someone who had either been out of the country or in prison for the last seven years could make such a rapid ascent to being nominated for the post of prime minister with support from just 30 deputies and dozens of tough-looking men standing outside the venue of his nomination.

The deputies at the Dostuk Hotel claimed Japarov had even been confirmed as the new prime minister.

Japarov was never a major political figure in Kyrgyzstan, even when he was freely walking the streets.

He was a policeman from the Issyk-Kul region who went into business operating a small oil refinery in the town of Balykchy on the shores of Issyk-Kul. Elected to parliament in 2005, Japarov was a known supporter of President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

After Bakiev dissolved parliament in October 2007, Japarov joined the Ak-Jol party that the president had just created as the first real ruling party in Kyrgyzstan.

After the 2007 parliamentary elections in which Ak-Jol received nearly 62 percent of the vote, Japarov was named a presidential adviser and soon after worked as a commissioner in the anti-corruption agency. He was in that post when Bakiev put his 32-year-old son, Maksim, in charge of the newly created Central Agency for Development, essentially running the country's economy.

Maksim Bakiev was alleged to have taken over several companies -- in one instance a bank with help from Japarov's sister, Raikul -- and made millions of dollars.

In 2009, Maksim Bakiev took some money from a $450 million loan Russia had provided to Kyrgyzstan with the intention of making some quick investments and skimming off the profits before returning the principal back to state coffers.

It was the Russian government, not Kyrgyzstan's anti-corruption agency, that quickly found out about the withdrawal from the loan and the Kremlin turned Russian media, readily available in Kyrgyzstan, against President Bakiev.

Russia's use of soft power against Kurmanbek Bakiev was a major factor in his ouster in April 2010.

Japarov then switched to the newly created Ata-Jurt party that had been founded by Bakiev supporters.

He won a seat as an Ata-Jurt candidate in the 2010 parliamentary elections, but in October 2012 he and Ata-Jurt leader Kamchybek Tashiev led a protest in Bishkek to nationalize the Kumtor gold mine.

Their supporters tried to storm the parliament building and Japarov, Tashiev, and Talant Mamytov were detained, charged, and in March 2013 convicted of trying to overthrow the government.

They were sentenced to just 18 months in prison but, in any case, all three were released in July that same year, just three months before Japarov took the Issyk-Kul governor hostage.

Someone Has A Plan

On October 5, no one knew the parliament would be stormed and no one knew protesters would free convicts from prison.

But one day later, Japarov was already being put forward as a candidate for prime minister at the hotel meeting with a mere 30 parliamentary deputies present.

That hotel parliamentary session was far short of having a quorum -- it needed to have 61 deputies -- and the appointment of Japarov as prime minister was rejected by nearly everyone except Japarov's supporters.

On October 9, Asanov stepped down as acting interior minister. On October 10 the National Security Service took him into custody on charges of organizing mass unrest in Bishkek.

Also on October 9, Suvanaliev was escorted out of the Security Service building after "veterans and State National Security Service personnel" said the Security Service would "not become a political tool for individual political forces."

President Jeenbekov, whose whereabouts were still not fully known, signed a decree naming the former chief of staff of the military, Zhanybek Kaparov, to be the deputy secretary of the Security Council.

Former President Almazbek Atambaev is back.
Former President Almazbek Atambaev is back.

That same day, at least four political rallies were conducted in Bishkek: one organized by the main opposition; another organized by supporters of former President Almazbek Atambaev, who had also been released from prison early on October 6; and yet another against the influence of organized crime in Kyrgyzstan's politics; and one by Japarov's supporters.

The pro-opposition and pro-Atambaev rallies came together on the central square in Bishkek, with Atambaev and former presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov addressing a crowd of thousands.

Then Japarov supporters arrived and a fight broke out that scattered the demonstrators.

A curfew was declared and overnight the army was brought in to keep the peace in the capital.

On October 10, with the army deployed to prevent protests, another parliamentary session was held at the presidential residence outside Bishkek.

The top item on the agenda was appointing Japarov to be prime minister and, again, it was accepted.

By October 12, Atambaev and several of his supporters who had also been freed from prison a few days earlier were detained and returned to their cells.

At the end of that day, all of the high-profile prisoners released in the early morning of October 6 had been detained except Japarov.

Who Is Really In Charge?

When the election commission announced it was annulling the results of the parliamentary elections and would organize new ones, it appeared the Birimdik and Mekenin Kyrgyzstan parties -- whose victories had so angered the public that it sparked the protests in Bishkek -- were finished.

Jeenbekov's brother was a candidate from the Birimdik party and there were accusations that administrative resources were used to secure that party's victory in the elections.

Mekenim Kyrgyzstan seemed to be the money party, linked to Matraimov and also to Kamchy Kolbaev, aka Kolya Kyrgyz, another alleged organized-crime boss who was rumored to be financially supporting Mekenim Kyrgyzstan.

Now both parties seem to have a second wind.

Someone powerful seems to be helping Japarov.

Who that is remains unclear, but they have proven effective and efficient at breaking up opposition rallies, removing key figures from power ministries, and quickly disrupting any political threat from opposition parties.

They are seemingly backed by thugs, whose help almost surely comes at a price, and have been able to focus attention on Japarov while remaining in the shadows.

But the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction for Japarov and his supporters on October 13, when Jeenbekov rejected the controversial vote three days earlier that made Japarov prime minister.

Citing a lack of a quorum to hold the impromptu parliamentary session, Jeenbekov added even more uncertainty into the country's immediate future, which is essentially without a government.

The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek voiced support for Jeenbekov's move in a statement issued on October 13 and warned about the threat that organized crime poses to Kyrgyz democracy.

"The United States supports the efforts of President Jeenbekov, political leaders, civil society, and legal scholars to return the political life of the country to a constitutional order," the statement said. "It is clear that one of the obstacles towards democratic progress is the attempt by organized crime groups to exert influence over politics and elections."

It said that the impact of organized crime "was evident with vote-buying during the October 4 elections, violence and intimidation in Ala-Too Square on October 9, and irregularities in the parliament session on October 10."

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 some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.

Bruce Pannier
Bruce Pannier

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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