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Kyrgyz Parliament Approves Atambaev Ally As New Prime Minister

Sapar Isakov (file photo)

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan's parliament has approved the president's chief of staff as the next prime minister of the Central Asian state.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved Sapar Isakov and his proposed cabinet in a vote on August 25, days after Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov stepped down so he can run in next month's presidential election.

Of the 102 lawmakers present, 97 voted in favor of Isakov, a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party.

If, as expected, President Almazbek Atambaev signs off on the new government, Isakov will become the seventh prime minister in the last seven years.

The 40-year-old Isakov is a career diplomat and had previously overseen foreign policy at Atambaev's office. He is seen as a loyal ally of Atambaev.

Although Atambaev's presidential term ends in 2017 and he cannot run for reelection, some critics fear he could position himself to become the next prime minister or install an ally in the role.

In 2016, Atambaev proposed constitutional amendments -- approved in a December 2016 referendum -- that boosted the powers of the prime minister.

Opponents fear the amendments are designed to keep him and his allies in power indefinitely.

Although seen as more democratic than its autocratic Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan is also the most politically volatile in the region.

The Muslim-majority country has experienced two revolutions -- in 2005 and 2010 -- that unseated presidents.

The presidential election in October will see two former prime ministers on the ballot in addition to Jeenbekov, who is a loyal ally of Atambaev.

Controversy has been cast over the election by the August 16 conviction of opposition politician Omurbek Tekebaev on bribery charges, which his party says were aimed at keeping him off the ballot.

Tekebaev was sentenced to eight years in prison in a ruling that bars him from running in the October election and the next presidential vote, due to be held in 2023.

The final list of presidential candidates will be made public on September 10.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters