Kyrgyz president vows to punish anyone trying to thwart ally's election succession

Kyrgyz president vows to punish anyone trying to thwart ally's election succession
Atambayev's outburst raises anxieties that his repeated assurances that he has no intention to pursue further political office might not prove reliable.
By Kanat Shaku in Almaty August 31, 2017

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev on August 30 warned opposition members and critics that he will punish anyone who causes "disturbances" in trying to prevent the Social Democratic Party candidate, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, from winning the upcoming presidential election on October 15.

Atambayev’s menacing words were directed at criticisms that he has used his position to promote the candidacy of longtime ally and former prime minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov. At an August 28 meeting, Atambayev called Jeenbekov his “friend” and said that he hoped he “will carry on my affairs and finish what I have undertaken” along with newly appointed Prime Minister Sapar Isakov, whom he referred to as his “protégé”.

He accused his critics of "shaking" stability in the country of six million in order to prevent “a candidate proposed by him from becoming president." His fears are not entirely unfounded as the two previous Kyrgyz presidential 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.

"Let's not forget that until December 1, I will be this country's president and I will have sufficient time to severely punish all of those who plan disturbances in our country," he said. "Once, when I was in the opposition, I was scared of Almighty God alone. And now Kyrgyzstan’s people support me. Do not play with fire, you will burn your hands - and not only hands."

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

Atambayev’s constitutional fiddle 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, potentially cementing the country as a failed state, according to some analysts.

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