Kyrgyz authorities crack down on election runner-up Babanov

By bne IntelliNews November 6, 2017

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office announced on November 4 that it has opened a criminal case against Omurbek Babanov, the runner-up in October’s presidential election.

Babanov is at the centre of an ongoing dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which started with Kazakhstan tightening Kyrgyz border controls following accusations that Kazakhstan tried to meddle in Kyrgyzstan’s October 15 presidential election. The dispute stems from Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev publicly accusing Kazakhstan of openly supporting ex-prime minister Omurbek Babanov in the race for the presidency. The accusation followed Nazarbayev meeting with Babanov on September 19. Babanov subsequently lost the election and Atambayev apologised for his remarks. Atambayev is due to step down to make way for his successor Sooranbai Jeenbekov, who is a member of Atambayev’s Social Democratic Party, which currently holds sway over the Kyrgyz parliament.

The criminal case accuses Babanov and other unidentified individuals of "stoking ethnic, racial, and religious hatred" and "publicly calling for the violent change of the constitutional order." The first accusation is based on claims that Babanov tied to gain the support of ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan by discussing the Uzbek community’s alleged discrimination and inequality at the hands of the Kyrgyz government "after which he called for them to actively fight against this situation."

The accusation appears to be based on footage circulated on the internet, where Babanov stands in front of an ethnic-Uzbek crowd and says “it's better to die standing than crawl on your knees". Babanov’s supporters insist the quote was taken out of context.

The primary motivation behind Babanov’s arrest, however, might be tied to the aforementioned Kyrgyz election. During the election Babanov’s campaign said that the Kyrgyz authorities were placing pressure on his supporters. Babanov ended up winning 34% of the vote, but lost to Jeenbekov’s 54%.

The OSCE also noted in its October 16 report that the election featured “cases of the misuse of public resources, pressure on voters and vote buying [which] remain a concern”.

The crackdown on Babanov might further pave the way for a dominant party system in the country.

Jeenbekov's presidency will be inaugurated on November 24.

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