It is barely four months until Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections and the party that currently has the most seats in parliament -- the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) -- has suffered another split.
It is the sort of sideshow the party does not need so close to the elections, as it now has three different versions of itself.
The SDPK has long been one of the most prominent parties in Kyrgyzstan -- the only country in Central Asia where democratic elections are held -- and its practical implosion will leave many questions for the political future of the country.
The SDPK won the most seats (38) in the 2015 parliamentary elections and the second-most in the 2010 (26) and 2007 (11) votes.
It is one of the oldest political parties in Kyrgyzstan, even winning the most seats in the 1995 parliamentary elections among parties. (Independents won the most seats.)
But the SDPK is now unlikely to fare so well in the elections scheduled for October 4 as it continues to splinter apart.
On May 21, Irina Karamushkina, a member of the SDPK's political council and a deputy in parliament, wrote on Facebook that two of ex-President and longtime SDPK leader Almazbek Atambaev’s sons -- Seyitbek and Kadyr -- are joining a new party: the Social Democrats of Kyrgyzstan (SDK).
Karamushkina wrote that acting SDPK leader Asel Koduranova had stopped “publicly, capably, and candidly defending the children of Almazbek Atambaev,” and so the two men went to the SDK, along with another member of the SDPK political council, Kunduz Zholdabaeva.
The slow dissolution of the SDPK actually began a few years ago, when Atambaev's term as president ended in November 2017 with the expiration of his six-year term.
He stepped down -- a very unusual thing for a president in Central Asia to do -- but was not prepared to step aside, and had worked hard to see that his choice for successor, current President Soronbai Jeenbekov, was elected.
Many felt Atambaev would try to continue leading the country from behind the scenes -- as Jeenbekov's puppet master -- but the new president had different plans and gradually removed top officials left over from Atambaev’s government.
Relations between Atambaev and Jeenbekov soured and their feud -- mostly fueled by Atambaev -- was widely reported in the media as they bickered and insulted each other publicly.
It was not until March 2019 that the big final rift finally occurred, though by that time many SDPK members had already chosen which of the two sides they would support -- the SDPK or the newly formed faction, SDPK Without Atambaev (its actual name).
Some chose neither, further fracturing the party.
The defection from the SDPK of Atambaev’s sons is not as great a blow as the fracture in 2019, but the timing is bad for the party's dwindling hopes ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Ex-President Atambaev is currently on trial for a range of crimes, the most serious of which is the murder of a commander of an elite security unit that stormed Atambaev’s compound in August 2019 after Atambaev repeatedly rejected summonses to be questioned about suspicious incidents that occurred while Atambaev was president.
The number of SDPK members still loyal to the party appears to be falling rapidly and it is unclear how much support the SDPK Without Atambaev faction really has, despite the group holding the majority of SDPK seats in parliament.
And now the new group that Atambaev’s sons have joined will further fragment the ranks of the core party.
Sagynbek Addrahmanov, the head of the SDPK Without Atambaev faction, said in May 2019 that his group would participate in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
The traditional SDPK party did not field any candidates in local elections earlier this year but is preparing for the October contest.
But the defections have continued.
At a May 26 session of the political council, the SDPK suffered further losses when several key members announced they were leaving.
Acting party leader Koduranova stepped down from her post and handed that responsibility to Anvar Artykov. Deputy party chairman Ryskeldy Mombekov and chairwoman Kunduz Zholdubaeva also formally announced they were leaving their positions.
Karamushkina also announced she was vacating her post and leaving the party, while deputy chairwoman Nazgul Mamytova said she was resigning from her post but would remain in the party.
Several other members of the party’s political council announced they were leaving the SDPK.
Meanwhile, the party that currently has the second-largest number of seats in parliament, Respublika-Ata-Jurt, has also split and will participate in the upcoming elections as two parties -- Respublika (no longer led by former presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov) and Ata-Jurt.
That will leave the field wide open for the October 4 parliamentary elections and, with draft legislation still being debated that could lower the threshold for winning seats from 9 percent to 7 percent, these promise to be the wildest and most unpredictable parliamentary elections ever in Kyrgyzstan.
The Biggest Party In Kyrgyzstan Continues To Splinter Amid Infighting
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.
Content draws 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.