Kyrgyzstan presidential election: leading party poised to reinforce its position

BISHKEK (TCA) — The cards may not have been completely shuffled but it is already clear who hold the trump card in the upcoming presidential polls in Kyrgyzstan scheduled for October 15: current Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov and outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev. The former is the leading candidate for the presidency, while the latter may occupy the post of PM in a new coalition government to be formed after the polls.

The comparison with the “swap” clinched between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his PM Dmitry Medvedev as the former had to retreat after his first two terms, handing the scepter over to Medvedev only to get it back after the latter’s term had ended, imposes itself here. Like Putin at the time, Atambayev has made a number of amendments to the Constitution, following a mandate facilitated by a referendum, shifting a number of executive powers from the presidency to the government.

There is, however, a crucial difference. As opposed to the Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution allows a head of state to keep office one term only, never to return. This should prevent a follow-up swap – unless in the meantime a new amendment in the Constitution will be made enabling the ruling tandem to do so.

Party-nominated and independent candidates

Jeenbekov has been nominated by the ruling coalition’s largest partner, the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), previously chaired by Atambayev until he withdrew, finding that the post was incompatible with that of head of state. But Jeenbekov is facing a competitor within the party in Speaker of the Parliament Chynybai Tursunbekov, who has also presented his candidacy, arguing that “the people, not party elites, should choose their state leader”. He was turned down by a recent party congress, and it remains unclear whether he will present himself as an independent candidate instead.

Other party-nominated candidates include Temir Sariev on behalf of the Akshumkar party, Arslanbek Maliev nominated by the Aalam party, and former parliament speaker Akhmatbek Keldibekov and ex-MP Kamchybek Tashiyev, both nominated by the radical nationalist party Ata Jurt.

Independent candidates, numbering 25, include Nusret Musa-Ogly Mamedov, described as the “head of the Fund for supporting the policy of the Turkic-speaking states”, Ruslan Dzhunusov, director of ShMatrix LLC (enterprise activity not documented), and Adakhan Madumarov who claims to represent the interests of Kyrgyz emigrants abroad. Recent self-nominations include those of Ulukbek Kochkorov who through his spouse controls one of Kyrgyzstan’s largest construction companies (recently charged with contract fraud), Mukar Cholponbayev, a partner in the law firm Mukar and Profi, and Kuban Choroyev, chairman of the public foundation “Revival of historical and cultural heritage and spirituality”.

A better-known name is that of Omurbek Babanov, a corporate tycoon and a former Prime Minister. It remains unclear whether he is running on a private title or under the banner of his political party Respublika. But even he, though popular in entrepreneurial circles, seems to be no match for Jeenbekov.

Economy first, politics subordinate

What puts virtually all other candidates challenging Jeenbekov on the losing end is their inability to come up with a credible alternative for the current state policy: the economy first, politics subordinate. After his nomination, Jeenbekov said that Russia remains the key partner for the Kyrgyz Republic, but Kyrgyzstan is ready to develop cooperation with China and other countries in the framework of integration projects such as the SCO, the United Energy System and the Belt and Road project.

Figures demonstrate that Jeenbekov hits the right string. Kyrgyzstan’s overall economic growth in the first five months of the current year stood at 6.8 per cent, according to data published by the Moscow-based Interstate Statistics Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CISISC). The improvement is driven by a spectacular 34.7 per cent increase in industrial output over the same period. The trend is visible: in 2016 economic growth only stood at 3.8 per cent year-on-year and industrial growth at 4.9 per cent. Putting the current improvement at risk by burning bridges and shifting to hazardous policies is a costly trap and a vast majority among the electorate seems to be all too well aware of it.

No “revolution” on the agenda

That awareness seems to escape the attention of many a foreign sideliner. “Disillusionment with previous governments and a demand for new faces has led to the emergence of multitude of candidates and intense competition between financial resources and administrative tools,” the Financial Times quoted Kate Mallinson, associate fellow for the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, as declaring. “A second round is looking likely and if the results are not clear there is a danger that there could be a stand-off.”

The article views the pre-election situation in Kyrgyzstan as follows: “While it lacks the major oil and gas deposits of its neighbours and the resulting economic dependence on the commodity market, Kyrgyzstan nevertheless was hit by a slowdown in 2014, thanks to contagion from the economic travails in key trading partners Russia and Kazakhstan. Public discontent at the prolonged slowdown, alongside the SPDK’s failure to stamp its authority on the succession process is seen as the factor behind the large cast of candidates.”

Though the SDPK lacks an absolute majority in the Kyrgyz Parliament, there is little chance that Kyrgyzstan will turn into a political mess. Moreover, there is no slowdown in the economy but as figures show there is a promising recovery. A new Kyrgyz “revolution” is therefore not on the agenda.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Times of Central Asia