Kyrgyz opposition coalition falls apart ahead of October 15 election

Kyrgyz opposition coalition falls apart ahead of October 15 election
The disarray among the opposition parties appears to have cleared the field for sitting president's favourite and ex-PM Sooranbai Jeenbekov.
By Kanat Shaku in Almaty September 15, 2017

A coalition of three Kyrgyz opposition parties, Onuguu-Progress, Mekenim-Kyrgyzstan and Ata-Jurt, has fallen apart ahead of the upcoming presidential election on October 15, Kyrgyz media reported on September 14.

The three parties had reached an agreement on August 6 to merge and propose a single candidate for the race. The merger might have allowed the opposition to garner enough votes to stand a chance against the presidential candidate of the popular Social Democratic Party (SDP), which currently controls a majority in parliament, but the leaders of the parties could not set aside their differences. Kyrgyzstan’s current president Almazbek Atambayev is an SDP member.

The three candidates previously put forward by each party are Bakyt Torobayev (Onuguu-Progress party), Adakhan Madumarov (Butun Kyrgyzstan) and Kamchibek Tashiyev (Ata-Jurt). As each candidate has already filed for a candidacy, the three remain in the race.

“I threw all my efforts into political consolidation and the creation of a new political union, but unfortunately the personal ambitions of my partners took the upper hand,” Torobayev said. Some believe Torobayev is on course to be kicked off the candidate list altogether, as two residents of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek apparently intend to file a formal complaint against Torobayev. Two young residents of the capital, Bishkek, have hinted they may file a formal complaint after his campaign used a picture of them without their approval - an offence that can be punishable by de-registration in Kyrgyzstan.

On the other hand, Tayshiyev surprised everyone by declaring that he would be joining forces with SDP candidate Sooranbai Jeenbekov - prime minister of Kyrgyzstan until he stepped down a month ago to battle for the presidency - “in the interests of avoiding the breakup of the country” as well as “in the interests of stability and tranquility”. Tashiyev has been a longtime opponent of the SDP and even went to prison for his opposition at one point.

Tashiyev has announced he will withdraw from the electoral race, but has not actually followed up on his intentions yet. His strange 180 degree turn raised suspicions of a secret deal struck between and the SDP candidate to ensure the endorsement.

Campaigning in Kyrgyzstan's presidential race officially got under way on September 10 with a total of 13 candidates registered for the election. The elections will test Kyrgyzstan’s commitment to democracy as the two previous regimes, excluding Roza Otunbayeva’s interim government in 2010, were toppled via violent revolutions. They brought down the administrations of Askar Akayev in 2005 and Kurmanbek Bakiyev in 2010.

As of now, the leading candidates of the electoral race are believed to be Respublika party candidate Omurbek Babanov and Ak-Shumkar party candidate Temir Sariyev.

SDP’s Jeenbekov has received public support from President Atambayev, who has described Jeenbekov as his “friend” and said that he hoped he “will carry on my affairs and finish what I have undertaken”. Moreover, when criticised for his open support of the SDP candidate, Atambayev warned his critics he would punish anyone who caused "disturbances" in trying to prevent Jeenbekov from winning the upcoming presidential election.

The Kyrgyz president is barred by the constitution from running for a second term.

Atambayev’s constitutional gamble has raised suspicions that he might be planning to essentially stay in power at least behind the scenes beyond his six-year term. While he has repeatedly stated his intention to pursue no further political office, his critics suspect he hopes to appoint his own loyal prime minister and possibly manipulate the election in favour of his own chosen presidential candidate.

Atambayev’s recent crackdowns on opposition members and media, including a number of arrests, raise concerns that Kyrgyzstan is moving away from the democratic path set out following the revolutions and may face another violent regime change, which some analysts say could potentially cement the country as a failed state.

The ex-Soviet country has fallen back into the category of consolidated authoritarian regime, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit 2017 report.