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Kyrgyzstan Elections: Fears And Hopes – Analysis

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By Hassan Beheshtipour

Kyrgyzstan’s central election commission announced on Monday that Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has won the presidential elections after obtaining 64.54 percent of the votes cast.

Kyrgyz presidential vote was held in 2318 polling stations across the Central Asian country on Sunday, October 30. Sixteen candidates ran for the election, which was also held in 29 countries around the world.

The central presidential election commission of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan declared the number of all those eligible for voting to be over three million and 200 thousand. According to the commission, 1,568,362 voters took part in the elections, representing 51.72 percent of all the eligible voters in the country.

Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan

Analyzing the election results

Atambayev is a wealthy businessman from northern Kyrgyzstan who has close relations with Russia. He has pledged to leverage all the government’s potentials to stabilize and improve the economy. Nevertheless, his major rivals, who hail from the southern parts of Kyrgyzstan, have questioned the presidential election results by accusing him of abusing his prime ministerial powers to win the vote. According to political observers, Atambayev launched the most costly election campaign compared to the other 15 candidates. Meanwhile, until September when he resigned from his official position as Prime Minister, Atambayev had the opportunity to show up in media and public places as a high-ranking official.

Yet, many political analysts believe that in comparison with previous terms, Sunday presidential elections has enjoyed higher and more acceptable standards. Additionally, if we note the prevailing realities in Central Asian countries, we may conclude that the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan have been held far more freely and competitively than those in its neighboring countries. For example, the current rulers of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have been in power since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in early 1990s and their political systems have remained strictly authoritarian and centralist. Given that, the Sunday elections were the first presidential vote held in Kyrgyzstan since the overthrow of the former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev following massive street protests in 2010; the manner of holding them and their results were therefore pursued with greater sensitivity in the whole Central Asia. Also, by changing its Constitution in 2010, Bishkek paved the way for the establishment of a republican parliamentary system instead of a presidential one. At the time, Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva was appointed by the parliament as the country’s interim president so that the government would prepare the ground for implementing the necessary reforms in the constitution and holding parliamentary elections.

Now with the election of the new Kyrgyz president, who will take office in January next year, the country’s period of transition to political stability after the collapse of Bakiyev government has come to an end. Since in the new political system, the parliament-elected prime minister has far more powers than the president, one may argue that the power position of Atambayev after winning the presidential elections will not be strengthened compared to the time when he was the prime minister. As the highest-ranking official of the country, however, he will have a superior formal and ceremonial position in the power structure of the Kyrgyz government. However, he will be the sole remaining president from the former Soviet Union’s presidents who should work with a prime minister elected by the parliament. As a result, he will not be able to appoint or dismiss the prime minister without the agreement of the Kyrgyz parliament.

Future outlook: Domestic developments

After social unrests in April 2010, which followed bloody conflicts between Uzbek and Kyrgyz ethnic groups in southern Jalal-Abad and Osh provinces, the crisis is still dormant as a result of continued ethnic instigations from inside and outside the country. However, if Mr. Atambayev would manage to get a prime minister from southern province elected who in turn reduces the existing discrimination between north and south through economic reforms, it would greatly help future stability of the country.

To achieve that goal, he will have to work with Kamchibek Tashiyev, former emergencies minister, and Adakhan Madumarov, former parliament speaker, both of whom are among his major opponents. Both of them are also known as nationalist figures in southern provinces of Kyrgyzstan. By choosing radical slogans and underlining the existing discriminations between northern and southern parts of the country, they have raised concerns about the possibility of further interaction between the country’s 1.5 million Uzbeks and Kyrgyz people who account for the majority of the country’s 5.5-million population. There are also figures among Atambayev’s political team who are neither accepted by the Kyrgyz society, nor by foreign partners of Bishkek. Their presence in the government has also invoked negative reactions from Kyrgyz political elites and voters.

Omurbek Babanov, chairman of Respublika Party who is also first deputy prime minister, is one of them. Babanov, who will be probably nominated for premiership by Atambayev, has no positive political track records. Under the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, he carried out his trade activities through support of Bakiyev’s son, Maksim, to widespread resentment of Kyrgyz businesspeople. Perhaps, Mr. Atambayev should change his mind about proposing him as his prime minister, once he is elected president. It would be better for him to work with more well-known people.

Future of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy

Atambayev has repeatedly stressed in his addresses that if he wins the presidential election, he will in the first place expand relations with neighbors and Russia. This was welcomed by the countries in the region and no wonder that Moscow will play a more notable role in the country in the future. His visit to Moscow a fortnight ago and the meetings and negotiations he held with Russian leaders has encouraged the perspective that Russia has appointed its favorable candidate way in advance.

Kyrgyzstan is viewed as a parliamentary republic, yet the president can play an influential role in the country’s internal and foreign policies. Regarding US ties, Atambayev has pledged to shut down the Manas Air Base after its lease contract expires in 2014. But the US foreign strategy tends to cooperate with whatever government taking power in Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan is also faced with numerous economic problems and is in a pressing need of the above 100-milion-dollar annual rent it earns from Manas and thus the chances of Atambayev’s promise to be realized are low.

Conclusion

If Kyrgyzstan succeeds, as the first Central Asian country to experience a parliamentary republic, to overcome its economic problems and to bridge tribal differences in the north and south, it could be introduced as an ideal model for its neighbors, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. If Atambayev is able to persuade a capable prime minister from the south into cooperation with him and manages to pass them trough the parliament, he could be hopeful to face less trouble in the next four years.

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