BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan’s divided parliament has controversially appointed Sadyr Japarov as new prime minister, just days after the convicted kidnapper was sprung from prison during turmoil over the Central Asian country’s disputed parliamentary elections.
Political unrest has gripped Kyrgyzstan since a parliamentary election on October 4 was tainted by allegations of vote-buying and fraud that benefited status quo parties, sparking angry street protests that resulted in the Central Elections Commission canceling the results and rival political forces vying for control.
The October 10 vote to approve Japarov came a day after embattled President Sooronbai Jeenbekov declared a state of emergency and put troops on the streets of the capital in response to unrest and violence during a week of whipsaw political developments.
The state of emergency did little to stop clashes on the streets of Bishkek on October 9 as supporters of Japarov hurled stones and bottles at rival parties backing former president Almazbek Atambaev and another prime minister candidate, Omurbek Babanov.
As he was leaving the unrest, shots were fired at Atambaev’s car.
But on October 10, Kyrgyz security forces arrested Atambaev on charges of organizing riots.
Just like Japarov, demonstrators who seized government buildings after the election had released Atambaev from a detention center where he was serving an 11-year sentence after being convicted on corruption charges in June.
Jeenbekov came to power in 2017 with support from Atambaev but the two fell out soon afterwards.
Hours after Atambaev was jailed again, Jeenbekov's allies in parliament gathered for an extraordinary session at Jeenbekov’s official residence outside of Bishkek after parliament was ransacked by protesters earlier in the week.
Only 51 members in the 120-seat parliament were present, but the deputy speaker of parliament said a quorum of 62 deputies had been reached after including individuals who obtained power-of-attorney documents from absent lawmakers.
It was not immediately clear if the vote was legal.
Japarov said after the vote that he would retain all government ministers who were still serving in an acting capacity after the previous prime minister, Kubatbek Boronov, was forced to resign on October 6 amid angry street demonstrations.
Japarov said he expected Jeenbekov to honor a pledge to resign once a government had been formed, which the president made as clashes between rival groups escalated earlier in the week.
"I met with [President] Sooronbai [Jeenbekov]. He said he would resign and leave. If you [lawmakers]. approve the government's program and makeup, then he said he would submit his [resignation] letter and leave," Japarov said at his confirmation.
There was no immediate comment from the president, but the events appeared to have strengthened his hand against opposition forces. Earlier on October 10, he sacked top security officials who had either supported his opponents or failed to intervene when the opposition earlier in the week claimed it was seizing power.
Erica Marat, an associate professor at the National Defense University in Washington, said Jeenbekov and Japarov may have outmaneuvered their rivals but they will continue to face political headwinds.
"The grassroots mobilization isn’t going anywhere. There will continue to be protests and attempts to at least hold another round of elections, now free of voter buying," she told RFE/RL. "There is a critical mass of pro-reform politicians that will continue to challenge the status quo again and again."
In another twist in developments, Japarov could become acting president as well. Under the law, if the president steps down, his responsibilities go to the speaker of parliament, but in the absence of a speaker of parliament, the next in line is the prime minister.
Myktybek Abdyldayev of the Bir Bol (Unity) party, who was elected parliamentary speaker on October 6, resigned on October 10 and only a deputy speaker, Mirlan Bakirov, was approved.
"In case of the president’s resignation, the parliamentary speaker should perform their duties in conformity with the constitution, but as he has stepped down too, they are assumed by the prime minister," Bakirov told the TASS news agency.
A populist politician, Japarov has a checkered history.
He previously was a senior member of the Kyrgyz government and had been an adviser to former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who has been living in exile in Belarus since being overthrown in 2010.
Until supporters broke him out of jail on October 6, he was serving an 11.5-year sentence after being convicted in 2017 of taking a government official hostage and other crimes. A court struck down the verdict this week during the unrest.
The turmoil marks a third time in 15 years that protesters have moved to topple a government in Kyrgyzstan, a nation of 6.5 million people that is one of the poorest former Soviet republics.