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Jeenbekov Failed To Tackle Kyrgyzstan's Problems. Now He's Gone.

Sooronbai Jeenbekov attends an extraordinary session of parliament in Bishkek on October 16, one day after his resignation.
Sooronbai Jeenbekov attends an extraordinary session of parliament in Bishkek on October 16, one day after his resignation.

Sooronbai Jeenbekov officially resigned as Kyrgyzstan's president on October 15.

He had little to show for his nearly three years in power. In the end, arguably, the problems he knew about but failed to adequately confront are what led to his downfall.

Kyrgyzstan's October 4 parliamentary elections were the beginning of the end for Jeenbekov.

The use of administrative resources and vote-buying resulted in massive victories for two pro-governmental parties -- Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan.

Jeenbekov's brother, Asylbek, was a candidate in the Birimdik party that received the greatest number of votes -- 24.9 percent.

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In an interview with Kyrgyzstan's Birinchi (First) Radio on August 22, Jeenbekov dismissed complaints about administrative resources being used in the election campaign, saying it could not play a significant role.

"Our society is so open that such a process, like [the use of] administrative resources, cannot be hidden," Jeenbekov said.

Clearly, it was not hidden to the many people in Kyrgyzstan who took to the streets after the vote to protest -- declaring that the use of administrative resources was decisive in the strong showing for Birimdik.

'Improbable Victory'

In any case, Jeenbekov's remark was curious -- coming from a figure whose own victory in the 2017 presidential election was seen by many as the result of support from then-President Almazbek Atambaev.

In polls conducted in the months leading up to the 2017 election, Jeenbekov had fared poorly. He never received even double-digit support from survey respondents, while the polls regularly showed his chief opponent -- Omurbek Babanov -- 20 percent or more ahead of his closest competitor.

Jeenbekov managed to win in the first-round ballot, receiving 54.67 percent of the vote compared to only 33.77 percent for Babanov.

Observers called it an amazing and improbable victory for Jeenbekov.

Ahead of this year's parliamentary elections, there were widespread accusations of vote-buying and the misuse of a voter-registration document known as Form No. 2 even before campaigning officially started.

Jeenbekov said several times that he'd heard such allegations. But he said he had never seen any evidence.

In an interview with Birinchi Radio on September 5, Jeenbekov brushed off the issue of vote-buying again, saying the sale of one's vote was a "personal decision for each of us."

As president, he could have informed the country that it was against the law and election rules.

He also could have reminded voters that they were casting ballots for a parliament that would be there for five years, and that selling one's vote for money that would be spent in one or two weeks was not in anyone's interest.

Half-Hearted Investigation

Jeenbekov had a chance to address these issues before mass protests erupted over them. Instead, he denied there was any evidence and showed only apathy about people selling their votes.

When the results were announced, it became clear that these violations swayed the elections in favor of the two parties most often associated with administrative resources and vote-buying.

When the ensuing protests brought down the government, Jeenbekov's days as president were numbered.

Those responsible for finally running Jeenbekov out of office appear to be the same people that media had repeatedly questioned Jeenbekov about in the context of corruption and organized crime.

In November 2019, a joint report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Kyrgyzstan's independent Kloop news website, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service (known locally as Azattyk) exposed the crimes and network of Raimbek Matraimov and his family.

The revelations sparked protests in Bishkek but only prompted a half-hearted investigation by a parliamentary committee.

Nothing was done in the end.

On September 17, Jeenbekov told a meeting of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council that the "uncompromising battle with corruption will be continued."

But the deputy secretary of the Security Council, Omurbek Suvanaliev, said Jeenbekov was receiving inaccurate information about anti-corruption efforts.

Suvanaliev charged that Jeenbekov had, in fact, become a hostage of his inner circle and did not have the strength to battle corruption.

From Kidnapper To Prime Minister

Others had also warned about the growing influence of organized crime and corruption in government. Jeenbekov continued to prevaricate or downplay the significance of the problem.

Then, the anti-government protests, which had been started on October 5 by opposition political parties and disillusioned voters, were hijacked.

Those who seized control of the agenda were well-organized and seemed to command great resources. They propelled Sadyr Japarov, a person with limited experience in politics but a great deal of experience in fomenting unrest, from imprisoned kidnapper to prime minister in the course of 10 days.

Those who brought Japarov to power continually outmaneuvered state officials and the opposition.

An analysis published on October 15 by the independent global media organization openDemocracy concludes that they did so, in large part, due to a sophisticated social network campaign.

Jeenbekov need not wonder why he was forced from office in the end.

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Had he taken a strong stand on the issues he'd repeatedly been told were plaguing his country, the problems that tainted Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections might have been avoided.

Ultimately, those responsible for forcing him from the presidency could have been under investigation, or in prison. Instead they've been able to take advantage of postelection unrest.

It remains to be seen whether the lessons of Jeenbekov's inaction will serve as an example to the leadership of Kyrgyzstan in the future.

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

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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