Kyrgyzstan Parliamentary Elections Re-Run: December 20, 2020 (DELAYED) and Snap Presidential Election: January 10, 2021


Election volunteers in Kyrgyzstan. Photo credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of State (public domain)

KEY FACTS
Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Parliamentary Republic
Population
6 million
UPCOMING ELECTIONS
Parliamentary Elections Re-Run
December 20, 2020 (DELAYED pending constitutional changes)
Snap Presidential Election
January 10, 2021 (tentative)
Local Elections
Overdue (date not set)
PAST ELECTIONS
Parliamentary Elections
October 4, 2020 (annulled)
Presidential Election
October 15, 2017
Local Elections
March 2016

Kyrgyzstan will re-run the parliamentary elections originally held on October 4, 2020 because election officials annulled the results following protests over vote-rigging. Moreover, the president has resigned, so the country could potentially hold another presidential election. Officials tentatively proposed December 20, 2020 for the new parliamentary elections, but then decided to delay the election pending constitutional changes.Meanwhile, the election commission has scheduled the snap presidential election for January 10.

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.

Political Context

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.

The Annulled 2020 Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan and Subsequent Chaos

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.

Re-Run of Parliamentary Elections and Snap Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan

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.

Geopolitical Context

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.

The Economist (October 7, 2020): Angry Kyrgyz rebel against a tainted election—for the third time – The president has offered to annul the results, but protesters want him to step down

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

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