Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election boosts president’s clout

Sadyr Zhaparov, who was elected in January following protests that ousted his predecessor, expects the ballot to further cement his grip on power.

Kyrgyzstan Elections
Kyrgyzstan Elections

Voters have backed parties supporting the country’s new president in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election, according to early results, just over a year after a forceful change of government in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.

President Sadyr Zhaparov, who was elected in January following protests that ousted his predecessor, had expected Sunday’s ballot to further cement his grip on power.

With over 90% of precincts counted, three blocs all supporting Zhaparov emerged as the top vote-getters. Some opposition parties quickly challenged the results, accusing the authorities of vote-rigging.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous landlocked nation of 6.5 million people that borders China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is a member of several Russia-dominated economic and security alliances. It hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s financial support.

Kyrgyzstan Elections
Soldiers vote at a polling station in Besh-Kungei during Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election (Vladimir Voronin/AP)

Zhaparov was serving an 11 1/2-year sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute over a gold mine when he was freed by stone-hurling supporters who challenged the results of the October 2020 parliamentary election.

Last year’s unrest marked the third violent ousting of the country’s leader in 15 years. Like uprisings that toppled presidents in 2005 and 2010, the 2020 turmoil was driven by the clan rivalries that shape the country’s politics.

After his election, Zhaparov pushed for a referendum that approved a new constitution, which substantially increased presidential powers at the expense of parliament. It reduced the size of the country’s parliament from 120 to 90 seats and gave the president the power to appoint judges and the heads of law-enforcement agencies.

In Sunday’s vote, 54 seats are filled by party lists and the remaining 36 are filled by single-ballot races.

With more than 90% of the precincts counted, the Ata-Zhurt (Homeland Kyrgyzstan), Ishenim (Faith) and Yntymak (Harmony) blocs were leading the race with about 17%, 14% and 11% of the vote on party lists respectively, according to the Central Election Commission. All three blocs have been loyal to Zhaparov.

Kyrgyzstan Elections
Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Zhaparov and his wife, Aigul Asanbaeva, cast their ballots (Vladimir Voronin/AP)

A few other parties were trailing behind, and the two top opposition parties, Ata Meken (Fatherland) and the Social-Democratic Party, appeared to miss the 5% threshold to make it into parliament. Their leaders quickly cried foul, accusing the authorities of rigging the ballot using the automated vote-counting system, and demanded a manual recount.

Tensions had risen in the country ahead of the vote, with Zhaparov accusing his political foes of plotting a mutiny and warning that those who try to stage post-election riots would face prosecution.

“Some politicians are planning an armed coup,” Zhaparov said. “We know them all, and after the vote we will take harsh measures against them.”

Speaking to the nation after the vote, the Kyrgyz leader hailed the election as “honest and fair” and again threatened “harsh measures” against those who would “attempt to undermine peace and stability”.

On Friday, the national security agency said it had foiled a coup plot involving several “destructively minded” parliament members and former senior officials who were accused of recruiting about 1,000 supporters and stockpiling weapons and drugs to stage post-election riots.

On Saturday, the Kyrgyz authorities announced the detention of four representatives of political parties on charges of trying to buy votes.

The Interfax news agency said Bakytbek Zhetigenov, a parliament member from the Social-Democratic Party, was arrested on Sunday on charges of plotting to seize power by force.

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