Amid campaigning for the wide-open and unpredictable parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan, the sudden inclusion of a previously banned opposition party has raised questions and made the vote's outcome even harder to forecast.
But the reinstatement of the Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) party in the race for seats in the country's parliament has restored a balance and ensured that a premier opposition party will take part in the elections.
The October 4 vote for a new parliament had looked as if it would have a dark cloud over it as the parties were registering.
When the Central Elections Commission (CEC) rejected Butun Kyrgyzstan's registration on September 3 -- the day before official campaigning started -- it appeared that the campaign would be conducted amid court battles and accusations of government interference.
But if that still occurs it will not be because Butun Kyrgyzstan is not participating.
On September 9, an administrative court in the capital, Bishkek, overturned the CEC decision barring the party from taking part, much to the approval of many of its supporters who gathered outside the courtroom.
The commission could have appealed to the Supreme Court -- as it just had in the case of another political party that the CEC initially excluded -- but instead Butun Kyrgyzstan was registered within a couple of hours of the court verdict and a random drawing of parties gave it the number eight spot on the ballot among 16 parties.
One controversy was avoided, but others emerged.
The Butun Kyrgyzstan Party
The party is led by Adakhan Madumarov, 55, a three-term parliamentary deputy from southern Kyrgyzstan who has also held several state posts, including secretary of the Security Council. He has led the party since founding it in 2010. The party has never won a seat in parliament.
But the two biggest parties currently in parliament -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and the Respublika/Ata-Jurt group -- are in disarray and only splinter groups from these parties will be participating in the upcoming elections.
So there is no clear frontrunner in the elections and most of the parties running in the 2020 vote are relatively new or a merger of two or more parties.
Madumarov has gathered other well-known veteran politicians into his party for these elections.
Omurbek Suvanaliev, who just stepped down from his post as deputy head of the Security Council; Bektur Asanov, leader of the Egemen Kyrgyzstan party and former governor of Jalal-Abad Province; and Iskhak Masaliev, who recently resigned as head of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan (he's also the son of Absamat Masaliev, a first secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Kyrgyzstan).
While these three are powerful political figures in the country, where personality rather than political platforms is often more important, their inclusion is a contrast to many other parties -- including established parties like Ata-Meken (Fatherland) -- that are going with a youth movement in this vote.
There was another big name in Butun Kyrgyzstan -- Tursunbai Bakir uulu, a former deputy and long-time ombudsman -- and he is ultimately the reason the CEC originally disqualified Butun Kyrgyzstan.
Bakir uulu attended the Butun Kyrgyzstan congress in August and was put on the party's list of candidates. But when the party gave the list to the CEC for registration, Bakir uulu's name was no longer on it and he claims when he inquired about it, he was told he had to pay $200,000 to get a top spot on the party list.
So Bakir uulu filed a lawsuit against Butun Kyrgyzstan that would later be the basis for the CEC excluding the party from the elections. The CEC ruled that the list approved at the party congress did not match the list presented at registration in late August.
Bakir uulu's status as a noncandidate has not changed but Butun Kyrgyzstan is back in the elections.
The CEC's Role
There is now some skepticism about the reason for Butun Kyrgyzstan's return.
Was the court ruling impartial or were some government officials concerned that the absence of a strong opposition party would cast doubt on the results in October, and therefore pressure was exerted on the court to include Butun Kyrgyzstan?
And the role of the CEC has been called into question.
The CEC first accepted, then rejected the documents from the pro-government Kyrgyzstan party in late August.
But that decision was overturned by an administrative court and the Kyrgyzstan party was allowed to hand in its registration documents. The CEC then appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the court's decision to reinstate the party.
The CEC also excluded the Aktiv party and it will not take part in the elections.
But two of three parties the CEC rejected managed to get back in the race by resorting to the court system, causing many to question the CEC's interpretation of the election rules.
Butun Kyrgyzstan In The Elections
Butun Kyrgyzstan's participation is important for the upcoming elections.
Party members Suvanaliev and Asanov have been among the most vocal politicians in drawing attention to allegations of vote-buying and the alleged funding of some parties by organized criminal groups.
It is something the government and the electorate should pay close attention to.
The party has experienced politicians within its ranks.
A downside to Butun Kyrgyzstan's participation is that, as mentioned, most of the parties competing consider themselves opposition parties.
With Butun Kyrgyzstan in the race, the votes of those who do not support pro-government parties will be further diluted among opposition parties, likely guaranteeing that while some will cross the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats, no single opposition party will win very many seats.
For now, Butun Kyrgyzstan's court case has raised the party's profile and that should more than compensate for the five days of campaigning that it lost.
They may yet be seen as the champion of the opposition, but the scandal around Bakir uulu will hang over the party as it moves forward in the campaign.