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Kyrgyz Presidential Election: Candidates Galore, Party Splits, And Some Chauvinism


Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov has been nominated as the Social Democratic Party's candidate for president. (file photo)

Campaigning has not even started for Kyrgyzstan's presidential race, in fact the registration process for candidates is not even finished yet, but it already seems clear this is going to be a wild ride.

Two of the biggest parties in the country, one of them the president's former party, seem to be on the verge of splitting less than three months before polling stations open on October 15.

The number of people who have declared they wish to be candidates, as of the writing of this report, had reached 35 (RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service has a list here), though by election day most of these presidential hopefuls will certainly be long out of the race.

And although campaigning has not yet started, the specter of nationalism is already hanging over the presidential race.

One of the most unexpected twists of the presidential election so far is the seeming rifts in the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) and the Ata-Jurt party.

These two parties won the most seats in the 2010 and 2015 parliamentary elections, albeit in the 2015 election Ata-Jurt teamed up with the Respublika party in a union that has since broken up (though the Respublika-Ata-Jurt faction in parliament remains intact).

The SDPK was the party of current President Almazbek Atambaev, who was forced constitutionally to break ties with it after he was elected president in 2011.

Many people in Kyrgyzstan continue to identify the SDPK with President Atambaev, however, and it seems like Atambaev will return to the party after his term in office expires later this year.

'One Vacancy'

The SDPK officially forwarded Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov to be the party's candidate for president at the party congress on July 15 and Atambaev has clearly indicated that he backs Jeenbekov to be his successor.

The same day, the speaker of parliament, Chinibay Tursunbekov, who is also a member of the SDPK, announced he intended to run for president as an independent candidate.

Ata-Jurt has actually nominated two presidential candidates -- Kamchybek Tashiev and Ahmatbek Keldibekov -- both nominated by the party on July 18.

The move was a surprise to many in attendance at the party congress, among them well-known Kyrgyz politician Azimbek Beknazarov.

Azimbek Beknazarov
Azimbek Beknazarov

Beknazarov took the podium and questioned the nomination of two candidates.

Addressing Tashiev and Keldibekov, Beknazarov said: "There is only one vacancy for [the post of] the president, and you are two."

He repeated that sentence, adding that "you have to decide which of the two of you will run for president."

'Pure-Blood Kyrgyz'

Beknazarov seems not to have mentioned at that time that he had also declared his intention of running for president.

But what he said next has caused some commotion in Kyrgyzstan.

First Beknazarov extolled the virtues of the two Ata-Jurt candidates, noting they were "pure-blood Kyrgyz."

Then he said: "Kyrgyzstan is needed for the Kyrgyz people and the state is for the Kyrgyz people," adding that "we have to build a home of the Kyrgyz people."

Kyrgyzstan is home to more than 80 ethnic groups and unsurprisingly many in the country, including many ethnic Kyrgyz, objected to the remark, saying it incites interethnic hatred.

Beknazarov's comments have been referred to Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security for review and charges could be filed against the fiery politician.

Not that a legal battle would prevent Beknazarov from campaigning.

Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission has informed Keldibekov that he is ineligible to run in the presidential race because technically he still has a criminal record, something Qishloq Ovozi mentioned in an earlier post.

Two other people who have declared their intention to run for the presidency -- Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebaev and former parliamentarian Sadyk Japarov -- are currently being detained while courts consider criminal charges against them.

And remember, campaigning has not even started yet, so stay tuned, there's plenty more excitement to come in Kyrgyzstan in the coming months.

Gulayim Ashakeeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.
The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

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 some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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