New Kyrgyz president sworn in as Central Asia sees its first peaceful democratic transfer of power

By bne IntelliNews November 24, 2017

Kyrgyzstan on November 24  inaugurated Sooranbai Jeenbekov as its new president. Jeenbekov replaced Almazbek Atambayev, who was constitutionally barred from serving more than a single six-year term.

The inauguration marked the first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected official to another in the Central Asian region. Kyrgyzstan, often hailed as an island of democracy, has toppled two autocratic regimes - one in 2005 and another in 2010 - and has since only had one interim president and subsequently democratically elected Atambayev as its leader. Nevertheless, the transfer of power hints at an emerging dominant party system in the country.

Both Jeenbekov and Atambayev are members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Atambayev is bent on maintaining a status quo under it. Prior to his departure from office, Atambayev cracked down on election runner-up Omurbek Babanov on dubious charges of "stoking ethnic, racial, and religious hatred" and "publicly calling for the violent change of the constitutional order".

Atambayev insisted that Babanov was a stooge of Kyrgyzstan’s northern neighbour Kazakhstan. However some Kyrgyz analysts believe Atambayev has been manipulating democracy to maintain himself as a “shadow-ruler” and, as such, getting rid of Babanov would be a form of ridding his party from future popular competition at the ballot box.

If cemented further, SDP’s power as the dominant party could weaken Kyrgyzstan’s multi-party system by imposing more regulations on freedom of speech, thus securing future victories for the party. That would eventually lead to a situation mirroring the environment in Russia where “United Russia” is the dominant party. A Babanov victory could have at least partially disrupted the emerging one-party framework. But now challenging the SDP’s rule before its power can grow out of proportion will be down to voters in future elections.

Atambayev said on November 20 he would not quit politics and promised to return for the 2020 parliamentary elections to help SDP, which currently leads the Kyrgyz parliament’s ruling coalition.

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