Post-Election Report: Kyrgyz President

As part of our continuing series of election reports, we are pleased to welcome Matteo Fumagalli of Central European University with the following post-election report on Sunday’s Kyrgyz presidential elections.

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Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections, held on Sunday 30 October, resulted in an overwhelming victory for the front-runner, Almazbek Atambayev, the small Central Asian republic’s prime minister since December 2010.

Atambayev becomes the country’s fourth president, following Askar Akaev (1990-2005, ousted during the so-called Tulip Revolution), Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005-2010, whose rule also ended abruptly) and Roza Otunbaeva, who presided over the launch of a new constitution, new parliamentary elections in October 2010, but also a dramatic and bloody descent into chaos in June 2010 as the government witnessed powerless clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the southern city of Osh, which left several hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Background

Widely seen as a the most open and pluralistic society in post-Soviet Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has experienced a turbulent recent past, marked (and marred) by two instances of regime change in April 2005 and April 2010 and inter-ethnic clashes in June 2010. Kyrgyzstan’s post-Bakiev path has been defined first by a stalemate between the interim authorities and the ‘ancien regime’, which sparked a number of violent clashes in April and May last year, and later inter-communal violence in the city of Osh.

The post-Bakiev era has also brought noticeable changes at institutional level, with a new constitution designed to prevent concentration of power in the hands of the president and strengthen the position of the prime minister and the parliament. Despite an acrimonious campaign, the October 2010 parliamentary elections ran without major disturbances. A coalition government, bringing together ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘revanchists’ , as well as representatives of northern and southern provinces was established in December and has lasted ever since, to the surprise of many.

Some 83 candidates filed their bid to contest the October 2011 presidential elections, although in the end only 16 remained in the competition (most failed to pass the Kyrgyz language test and to pay the required fee). The serious contenders were only a handful, namely:

  • Almazbek Atambayev, the current prime minister, supported by a number of political parties, including Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (to whom he belongs), and coalition partner and now apparent king-maker Respublika (Republic). Atambayev also enjoyed the support of the outoging President Roza Otunbayeva, and even more importantly that of Russia;
  • Kamchybek Tashiev, leader of Ata-Jurt (member of the coalition government, but closely associated with the Bakiev regime), rooted in the southern part of the country and a well-known nationalist figure;
  • Adakhan Madumarov, supported by Butun Kyrgyzstan, rooted in the south and also running on a nationalist platform.

Election results

Turnout was low overall (60%), with significant regional disparities between high participation in the north (Chuy, 81% and Talas, 80%) and the south (Batken, 49% and Jalalabad, 47%). Breakdown by provinces (oblast) will not become known for another several weeks so comments are only based on nationwide results thus far.

Atambayev won the elections in the first round with 63,23% of the votes. The two main contenders, Adakhan Madumarov (Butun Kyrgyzstan) and Kurmanchybek Tashiev (Ata-Jurt) came a distant second and third, receiving a mere 14.76% and 14,32% respectively. As expected, Madumarov and Tashiev’s candidacies split both the nationalist and southern vote.

As Atambayev declared victory, Madumarov and Tashiev  contested the outcome of the elections, demanding not a recount, but new elections on the grounds that the ‘incumbent’ had used state resources inappropriately and that irregularities had marked the whole electoral process. Madumarov and Tashiev supporters staged a number of blockades on the main road between Bishkek and Osh. No major fraud or irregularity was reported by international observers.

In his first post-victory speech Atambayev showed awareness of the necessity to heal wounds and emphasised the importance of solving political conflicts through negotiations. It is now expected that Tashiev will be offered a post in government, and Madumarov the governorship of one of the southern provinces.

Not insignificantly, a first-round sound victory should help prevent a new north-south split in the country, a scenario which a second round would have made more likely, since the other contender would have been a nationalist candidate from the southern part of the country.

Significance

Atambayev’s victory is bad, if unsurprising, news for the United States. A long-standing pro-Russian politician in a country which in any case cannot forego Russia’s support, Atambayev carefully sought Moscow’s support and constructed his image as a dependable ally for Moscow, expressing support for the Moscow-led Customs Union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. During the campaign Atambayev continuously reiterated that the lease of the US base (Transit Center) at Manas, due to expire in 2014, would not be renewed. The message was once again voiced in the immediate aftermath of his victory. The US will soon find itself without the important logistical hub through which some 50,000 troops pass every month on the way to and from Afghanistan.

Atambayev’s election also raises interesting scenarios over the fate of the 2010 Constitution. What will be interesting to see is whether the new president will be satisfied with a diminished range of powers compared to any of the Central Asian neighbours or if instead he will push for a different interpretation of the constitutional charter.

Challenges ahead

Maintaining the integrity of the country and striving for some form of reconciliation between the supporters of the post-Bakiev order and the ‘ancien regime’, and between the various ethnic communities will be top priorities for Atambayev.  The main problem revolves around the fact that the north-south split well overlaps with the divide between the ‘revolutionary’ camp and the ‘ancien regime’. The situation in the country is already volatile, and a refusal by the nationalist camp to accept an Atambayev victory could precipitate the situation. In addition a post-election reshufflement of government and ministerial positions may leave a number of key figures without access to resources.

Details of the count are available on the website of the Central Elections Commission.

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