BISHKEK (TCA) — During a visit to the southern Batken region on October 13, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev called a leading contender in the presidential race a “flunky” of a foreign country, as Kyrgyzstan prepares for the presidential vote to take place on October 15.
Atambayev did not name the candidate or the country in his remarks, but they were aimed at Kazakhstan, which he has accused of meddling in the election and backing businessman Omurbek Babanov over the ruling party favorite, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reported.
“Now, a foreign country’s moneybags and power holders are imposing their flunky on us,” Atambayev said.
“Failing to buy us with their money, they are trying to frighten us,” he said, referring to what Kyrgyz officials say are stepped up border checks that have caused hours-long delays for people and vehicles trying to cross into Kazakhstan.
“The Kyrgyz people, with at least a 3,000-year history, will never be frightened of a three-day blockade and will never vote for someone’s flunky,” Atambayev said.
Atambayev is constitutionally barred from seeking a second presidential term and has made clear he wants his former prime minister, ruling Social Democratic Party candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to win the election.
Babanov’s campaign on October 13 objected to Atambayev’s “offensive assessment of the candidate” and called on the president to keep his “promise” to hold an “honest election” and refrain from openly supporting any of the candidates, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
“Your words, as recent years have shown, have a direct impact on the decisions made by law-enforcement authorities and the judiciary. We also believe that this is unfair and violates the principles of a lawful, open, and competitive election,” the campaign was quoted by Interfax as saying in a statement issued in Bishkek.
Atambayev’s latest comments echoed a public statement on October 7 in which he accused the Kazakh authorities of “meddling in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs” and of openly supporting Babanov.
In those remarks, Atambayev also criticized Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power since the Soviet era, over his long rule.
The accusations came after Nazarbayev met on September 19 with Babanov, who is seen as a front-runner along with Jeenbekov.
Adding to the pressure on Babanov, the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General’s Office said on October 13 that recent remarks he made to ethnic Uzbek voters in southern Kyrgyzstan “contained elements of incitement of ethnic hatred.” It did not say whether there would be a formal investigation or what the consequences might be.
The statement came after the Central Election Commission issued a warning to Babanov on October 10 about the same remarks, saying they risked inciting ethnic discord.
It was the third warning of an alleged campaign infraction that Babanov has received, after one involving campaign posters and another what the election officials said was the participation of Islamic clergy in his campaign.
The warning led to concerns that the commission could seek to bar Babanov from the vote. While three warnings can lead to the disqualification of a candidate, disqualification later than five days before the election is unlawful.
Atambayev’s remarks about a “blockade” referred to the chaotic situation along the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, where long lines formed after Kazakh authorities appeared to slow passage across the border following his initial public criticism of Kazakhstan.
Kazakh officials have rejected the claims of interference in the Kyrgyz election and said the slowdown at the frontier was the result of a “scheduled border operation.”