BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's divided parliament has controversially appointed Sadyr Japarov as prime minister, just days after the convicted kidnapper was sprung from prison during turmoil over the Central Asian country's disputed parliamentary elections.
However, members of parliament and other political activists on October 11 questioned the legitimacy of the rump parliament session that selected Japarov, the latest twist in a sometimes violent, week-old power struggle.
Political unrest has gripped Kyrgyzstan since parliamentary elections on October 4 were 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 began shortly after clashes on October 9 between Japarov supporters and backers of rival parties supporting former President Almazbek Atambaev and another prime minister candidate, Omurbek Babanov.
As he was leaving the unrest, shots were fired at Atambaev’s car.
Just like Japarov, demonstrators who seized government buildings after the election released Atambaev from a prison where he was serving an 11-year sentence after being convicted of corruption in June.
But on October 10, security forces again arrested Atambaev on charges of organizing riots.
Jeenbekov came to power in 2017 with support from Atambaev but the two fell out soon afterward.
Hours after Atambaev’s detention, Jeenbekov's allies in parliament gathered for an extraordinary session at his official residence outside of Bishkek after parliament was ransacked by protesters earlier in the week.
Only around 50 members in the 120-seat parliament were present, but the deputy speaker of parliament said a quorum of 61 deputies had been reached after including individuals who obtained power-of-attorney documents from absent lawmakers.
Parliament Deputy Aida Kasymalieva said on October 11 that she left the session on the previous day in order to prevent a quorum and forestall a vote on Japarov’s candidacy, but that her vote had been cast illegally.
“We are preparing documents now to appeal to the courts,” she told RFE/RL, adding that parliament staff had not responded to her request for a list of lawmakers who voted for Japarov’s appointment.
In a later Facebook post, Kasymalieva said all decisions reached during the session were "illegal."
Former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov asserted that the constitution requires the physical presence of a majority of deputies in order to form a quorum.
Japarov is a former nationalist member of parliament who says his 2017 conviction on charges of kidnapping a regional governor was politically motivated.
He previously was a senior member of the Kyrgyz government and an adviser to former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was overthrown in 2010.
Until supporters broke him out of prison on October 6, he was serving an 11 1/2-year sentence. A court struck down the verdict this week during the unrest.
Japarov said on October 10 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 the demonstrations.
Japarov announced a 10-point program aimed at restoring stability, including protecting investors, ensuring food security, and “bringing to justice all officials involved in corruption."
He also 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]," Japarov told the parliament session. "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."
If Jeenbekov steps down, it would be the third time in 15 years that public protests have brought down a Kyrgyz president.
Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country with elements of democracy, but it has been destabilized by poverty, corruption, clan rivalries, and deep divisions between its northern and southern regions.
There was no immediate comment from the president.
Lawmaker Kasymailieva told RFE/RL that Jeenbekov should remain at his post until a "legitimate" government is in place.
Earlier on October 10, Jeenbekov 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 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 parliament speaker during the tumultuous events on October 6,resigned during the meeting of lawmakers who approved Japarov as prime minister on October 10. Only a deputy speaker, Mirlan Bakirov, was approved to replace him.
"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.
On October 9, self-appointed provisional heads of the Interior Ministry and the state security service left their respective buildings and handed over the leadership to their deputies. The two state bodies said the move was meant to ensure security forces remained apolitical.
The State National Security Committee said on October 9 that neighboring Uzbekistan had handed over to it three people who illegally crossed the border on October 6, including a district mayor, Tilek Matraimov, from a politically influential family.
Raiymbek Matraimov, along with his powerful clan, was the target of large protests in November and December last year, with demonstrators demanding a probe into allegations of corruption and massive outflows of cash from the country.
The powerful tycoon, whom many in Kyrgyzstan consider to be an associate of Jeenbekov, has been at the center of a high-profile corruption scandal exposed by a joint investigation by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), and the Kyrgyz news site Kloop..