Election volunteers in Kyrgyzstan. Photo credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of State (public domain)
Freedom House Rating
Parliamentary Elections Re-Run
December 20, 2020 (DELAYED pending constitutional changes)
Snap Presidential Election
January 10, 2021 (tentative)
Overdue (date not set)
October 4, 2020 (annulled)
October 15, 2017
Kyrgyzstan will hold a snap presidential election on January 10, 2020, and plans to re-run the parliamentary elections originally held on October 4, 2020 because election officials annulled the results following protests over vote-rigging. The snap presidential election is happening because the president has resigned in the wake pf the protests.
Officials tentatively proposed December 20, 2020 for the new parliamentary elections, but then decided to delay the election pending constitutional changes.
Additionally, local elections are due. Originally scheduled for April 2020, officials postponed them due to COVID-19 and have not yet set a new date.
Kyrgyzstan began a halting transition to democracy following the Tulip Revolution of 2005. It remains the strongest democracy in Central Asia (although it does not have much competition in that department). In that vein, the country switched to a parliamentary system in 2010. After that, in an effort to curtail presidential power and authoritarian backsliding, the country instituted a one-term limit on presidential terms. However, political parties largely revolve around around clan and regional affinities rather than ideologies or platforms.
The man who was president until October 15, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, was elected in 2017, leading to Kyrgyzstan’s first peaceful transfer of power between two elected presidents. Jeenbekov’s predecessor, Almazbek Atambayev, initially backed him, but relations between the two subsequently soured. Atambayev staged a series of protests and ended up in jail.
The political climate was tense heading into the October 2020 parliamentary elections. It subsequently exploded following said elections.
Sixteen parties competed in the 2020 parliamentary elections, but only four won seats. None were genuine opposition parties. Citizens expressed shock and meanwhile, parties said they would not recognize the results (the first party to refuse to recognize was, unsurprisingly, Atambayev’s Social Democrats).
Protesters took over the parliament building and other government buildings, and sprang prisoners from jails. Ultimately, in the midst of chaos, a group of MPs crowned one of those prisoners, Sadyr Japarov, prime minister. Japarov, a supporter of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev (himself ousted by protesters in 2010), had been serving a prison sentence for kidnapping a regional governor. However, Japarov holds that the charges were politically motivated.
Ultimately, Jeenbekov resigned. After that, Japarov became acting president. In fact, this marks the third time in 15 years that Kyrgyz protesters have ousted a president.
Following the chaos of the last elections, Kyrgyzstan voters will have several opportunities to head to the ballot box in the coming months. Japarov has suggested a constitutional referendum in order to allow him to run for president – Kyrgyzstan currently has rules that bar acting presidents from running for a full term. In that vein, the election commission has scheduled a snap presidential election for January 10, 2020.
In addition, officials have proposed re-running the parliamentary elections on December 20, 2020. However, parliament subsequently voted to delay the elections until after the constitutional referendum. Meanwhile, officials are considering changing the election rules so that more parties will have the chance to be represented in parliament.
In short, it is far from clear how events will play out.
Kyrgyzstan sits at the crossroads of several geopolitical hotspots. The United States has an air base there until 2014, when the lease ended. Likewise, both Russia and China actively engage in Kyrgyzstan. In that vein, China is its biggest creditor.
Curated News and Analysis
RFE/RL (October 24, 2020): Kyrgyzstan Schedules Early Presidential Election For January 10
Catherine Putz, The Diplomat (October 19, 2020): Kyrgyzstan Working Toward New Elections Under New Rules
Gulzat Baialileva and Joldon Kutmanaiiev, openDemocracy (October 15, 2020): How Kyrgyz social media backed an imprisoned politician’s meteoric rise to power
Peter Leonard and Ayzirek Imanaliyeva, Eurasianet (October 15, 2020): Seizure of Kyrgyzstan nears completion as president steps down
Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL (October 13, 2020): A Hidden Force In Kyrgyzstan Hijacks The Opposition’s Push For Big Changes
Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Colleen Wood, Washington Post (October 10, 2020): Election officials annulled Kyrgyzstan’s October election. Here’s why.
Peter Leonard, Eurasianet (October 7, 2020): Kyrgyzstan: Anarchic power transition unfolds under shadow of violence
Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL (October 3, 2020): Kyrgyzstan: A Guide To The Parties Competing In The Parliamentary Elections
Alimjan Jorobaev, Eurasianet (October 2, 2020): Kyrgyzstan: Where electioneering fantasies and harsh reality meet
Ryskeldi Satke, The Diplomat (October 1, 2019): The Chaos of Kyrgyz Politics
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Updated October 24, 2020