Kyrgyz Parliamentary Elections Annulled Amid Protests and Unrest




INSIGHTi

Kyrgyz Parliamentary Elections Annulled
Amid Protests and Unrest

October 9, 2020
The Kyrgyz Republic (commonly known as Kyrgyzstan) faces political upheaval in the wake of disputed
parliamentary elections held on October 4, 2020. As a parliamentary republic that holds contested
elections, Kyrgyzstan has long been considered the most democratic country in Central Asia, with a
vibrant civil society and a higher degree of press freedom than found elsewhere in the region. Corruption
is pervasive, however, and political institutions remain weak. Opposition parties alleged widespread
irregularities in the October 4 vote, including vote-buying and voter intimidation; these assertions were
deemed credible by the international election observers. Mass protests broke out in the capital, Bishkek,
on October 5. Overnight, protestors seized the government building that houses both parliamentary and
presidential offices, as well as the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security and the
public radio and television broadcaster. Hundreds, including multiple parliamentary candidates, were
reportedly injured in clashes with police, and one person was killed.
On the morning of October 6, the Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that the October 4
results had been annulled. A new vote has not yet been scheduled, and unrest has continued. Amid the
resulting power vacuum, it remains unclear who is in charge of the country. President Sooronbai
Jeenbekov has stated that he is willing to resign once the rule of law is restored. The prime minister, the
parliamentary speaker, the mayor of Bishkek, and other officials announced their resignations, but some
have since returned to their offices. In the early hours of October 6, protestors freed former President
Almazbek Atambayev, who had been sentenced in June to over 11 years in prison on corruption-related
charges, as well as several other jailed politicians. Although the term of the current parliament has not yet
expired,
lawmakers have had difficulty establishing a quorum. Attempts by some Members of Parliament
to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Jeenbekov have so far been unsuccessful. Two men
were declared interim prime minister by two different groups of parliamentarians—Sadyr Japarov, a
former Member of Parliament who was serving an 11.5-year sentence for kidnapping before he was freed
by protestors, and Tilek Toktogaziyev, a 29-year-old candidate from the opposition Ata-Meken party. A
number of opposition parties have since declared support former Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov
instead. After violent clashes between rival groups on October 9, President Jeenbekov declared a state of
emergency.

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Kyrgyzstan has twice experienced revolutions that ousted authoritarian-leaning presidents, in 2005 and in
2010. A new constitution adopted in 2010 converted the country to a semi-parliamentary system and
imposed a one-term limit on presidents, who are elected directly via universal suffrage and serve for six
years. The prime minister, nominated by the parliamentary majority and appointed by the president,
shares executive power. Kyrgyzstan’s unicameral parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh (“Supreme Council”),
has 120 members; deputies are elected to five-year terms in a closed-list proportional system. No single
party can hold more than 65 seats, and independent candidates are not allowed to run. Kyrgyzstan has one
of the highest electoral thresholds in the world—a party must receive at least 7% of the overall vote to
secure seats in parliament. Additionally, a party must win at least 0.7% of the vote in each of the country’s
seven provinces and the cities of Bishkek and Osh. International observers have criticized both the 65-seat
limit and the double threshold as limiting voters’ ability to express their political will.
Because the country’s two largest parliamentary groupings had fractured in recent years, there were no
clear front-runners in the October elections. Of the 16 parties that fielded candidates, 5 are new and 3
currently hold parliamentary seats. Nevertheless, the candidates included many veteran politicians
reshuffled into new groupings. Although Kyrgyzstan enjoys a greater degree of political pluralism than its
Central Asian neighbors, in the assessment of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
“political parties are built around personalities, rather than around platforms, and tend to rely on funding
from businesses, thus often reflecting private interests.” Controversial decisions by the CEC concerning
party registration raised questions regarding the body’s impartiality before the elections.
Figure 1.Preliminary Results as of October 4

Source: Graphic created by CRS. Data from Kloop.kg.
According to preliminary results issued by the CEC on October 4, four parties cleared the 7% electoral
threshold, accounting for about 65% of all votes cast, with 24.9% for Birimdik, 24.3% for Mekenim
Kyrgyzstan, 8.9% for the Kyrgyzstan Party, and 7.2% for Butun Kyrgyzstan. Birimdik, Mekenim
Kyrgyzstan, and the Kyrgyzstan Party are seen as pro-government. Birimdik was founded in 2020 after
the disintegration of the previous ruling faction; its candidates include the president’s brother (under


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Kyrgyz law, a sitting president cannot be a member of any political party). Mekenim Kyrgyzstan is
reportedly financed by Raimbek Matraimov, a former customs official implicated in a massive corruption
and money-laundering scheme.
In addition to concerns about the integrity of the vote, the post-election protests may reflect broader
discontent within Kyrgyzstan. The ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has
strained the country’s under-resourced healthcare system and exerted a significant negative impact on
Kyrgyzstan’s economy, which depends heavily on remittances from Russia. An August poll conducted by
the International Republican Institute showed widespread dissatisfaction among the Kyrgyz public, with
53% of respondents stating that the country was heading in the wrong direction; unemployment, COVID,
and corruption were named as the three top problems facing Kyrgyzstan. Some analysts assess that the
elections spurred protests at least in part because they upset the balance between southern and northern
regional interests.
Both Russia and China, which shares a border with Kyrgyzstan and holds much of the country’s foreign
debt, have expressed concern and urged a speedy resolution to the situation. Many Members of Congress
and other U.S. policymakers have long voiced support for consolidating Kyrgyzstan’s gains as Central
Asia’s only parliamentary democracy. Promoting a more inclusive and accountable democracy is a stated
goal of U.S. foreign policy in Kyrgyzstan, and Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian country that
participates in the House Democracy Partnership.


Author Information

Maria A. Blackwood

Analyst in Asian Policy




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