By Kirill fursov - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

By Kirill fursov - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Election Presidential elections Kyrgyzstan 2017. Peaceful in most regions except Osh city

Among the twelve candidates who ran for the presidency in Kyrgystan, three were particularly important: Temir Sariev, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and Omurbek Babanov. The turn-out was almost 56 percent of 3 million eligible voters. The elections went peacefully in most regions of Kyrgyzstan except Osh city, where half of the inhabitants belong to Uzbek ethnic groups.

Published on on December 7, 2017

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Since its independence in 1991 Kyrgyzstan has experienced mixed developments, oscillating between democratization and semi-authoritarianism. In comparison to other Central Asian regimes, Kyrgyzstan has a much more competitive political environment, having had a succession of four different presidents within 25 years,[1] and is considered to be a semi-authoritarian country with a parliamentary system.

Over the 25 year period, the people of Kyrgyzstan overthrew the government twice in relatively bloodless revolts, known as the ‘Tulip’ Revolution in 2005 and the ‘Rose’ Revolution in 2010. Both revolutions signified ‘people’s power’ and offered some hope that there would be democratic change in Kyrgyzstan. The political opposition has played a big role in overthrowing each president (such as Akayev and Bakiyev), but the events in both cases occurred so quickly that once in power, political groups who used to belong to the opposition became corrupted by power themselves. After Bakiyev and Akayev, the leader of the opposition, Rosa Otunbaeva, came to power for one year after which presidential elections took place, won by Atambaev.

During the election in 2011, Almazbek Atambaev was elected president of Kyrgyzstan for one term.[2] Even though Atambaev did not enjoy the same privileges and power as the previous presidents, Akayev and Bakiyev, he was not simply a formal figure either. In fact Atambaev had a central role in Kyrgyz politics, partly due to the president’s power with regard to foreign policy and partly because of his presidential party SDPK, which is the most important political party in Kyrgyzstan.[3]

Presidential elections took place on 15 October 2017 in Kyrgyzstan. Among the twelve candidates who ran for the presidency, three were particularly important: Temir Sariev, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and Omurbek Babanov. All three previously belonged to Atambaev’s team and each had held the position of prime-minister. There was only one woman among the twelve candidates. Jeenbekov got more than 54 percent of the vote in the presidential elections, while his main rival, Omurbek Babanov, got only 34 percent of the vote.[4] The rest of the candidates together got 12 percent of votes. The turn-out was almost 56 percent of 3 million eligible voters, meaning that almost 1,7 million votes were cast. Constitutionally, Atambaev was not allowed to run for a second consecutive six-year term; instead he supported his ownpolitical ally, Jeenbekov, 58 years old, a member of the Social Democratic Party, the country’s prime minister, who originates from southern Kyrgyzstan. Sooronbai Jeenbekov was one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party (SDPK), whose leader was Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev.For many years he used to work as a teacher and this rhetoric was widely used in his presidential race. He promised to continue President Atambaev’s policy, praising and supporting Atambaev and pledging ‘to preserve what has been achieved and to strengthen what has been started’.[5] Jeenbekov is an agricultural specialist and accountant by training; thus he servedas Agriculture Minister in 2007 before becoming a governor of Osh oblast from 2010 to 2015. Jeenbekov’s strongest opponent was 47-year-old Babanov, a young, wealthy entrepreneur and former fuel trader from Talas in northern Kyrgyzstan. Babanov started his business in Kazakhstan early in 1990, but became politically active only in 2005, by entering parliament. Babanov was a prominent harsh critic of first President Askar Akayev and got the post of deputy prime minister duringsecond President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s term in office. During Atambaev’s term in office, Babanov was very close to Atambaev and supported his policy but represented his position as belonging to a ‘systematic’ opposition. Before running for the presidential race, Babanov informed President Atambaev and got his encouragement. Babanov is the leader of the party ‘Respublika Ata Zhurt’, which used to belong to a category of ‘systematic’ opposition, as Atambaev puts it, meaning the party did not openly criticized the president and the government. On election day, Atambaev stated in an interview for the local channel (KTRK) that ‘Babanov changed his policy and started openly criticizing me before the presidential elections’,[6] and claimed that this behavior surprised him.In particular, Atambaev was furious when Babanov said that nothing had been done against corruptionin six years; Atambaev told Babanov that he should be the first target when fighting corruption.[7] The struggle between Babanov and pro-presidential Jeenbekov was very fierce as the candidates used dirty campaigning methods to attack each other and collected kompromatfrom all sides. Instead of promoting electoral programs, the presidential election campaign becamea battle ofkompromat [dissemination of compromising material]. According to a sociological survey, Babanov’s chances were high, mainly due to his opposing Atambaev’s policy. Jeenbekov’s chances were much lower because of his programs. Therefore, black PR (mudslinging) against Omurbek Babanov was enormous because he was one of the favorites in the pre-election race. Babanov accused Jeenbekov of using his political leverage, administrative resources, and support from the incumbent state in order to compete with him. Jeenbekov and the incumbent state collected numerous items of kompromat with the aim of discrediting Babanov. The headlines and titles of the pro-government mass media of Kyrgyzstan were full of such slogans as: “Babanov decided to give Kyrgyzstan to the Kazakh oligarchs”, “Babanov will not be able to buy everyone”, “Omurbek Babanov is an unprincipled liar”, “Babanov puts his own interests above the interests of the state”.[8] Babanov and his team were blamed for attempting to turn Kyrgyzstan into a commercial football. Another kompromat accusation against Babanov was having connections with Kanat Isaev, a politician who had links to criminal authorities and their plans for organizing chaos after the election. The black PR against Babanov was constantly presented in the national media, especially through the main channel KTRK news.

The elections went peacefully in most regions of Kyrgyzstan except Osh city, the second largest city. Half of its inhabitants belong to Uzbek ethnic groups, and according to earlier surveys they seemed to support Babanov rather than Jeenbekov. Therefore, Babanov gave a campaign speech to the Uzbek communityAmir-Timur in Osh city, in southern Kyrgyzstan, asking people not to be afraid of voting for whoever they want. He also mentioned the infringement of the Uzbek people’s rights, highlighted the alleged ethnic inequality in the country and the constant pressure of state authorities on Uzbek ethnic groups, and urged them to actively resist this situation in Uzbek mahalla [urban districts]. The Prosecutor General’s Office of the Kyrgyz Republic opened a criminal case against Babanov after the elections for fomenting ethnic tension and attempting to incite the overthrow of the government during the pre-election campaign[9]. Later the State Forensic Expert Service found that there were no signs of appeals aiming to incite ethnic hatred, provoke people to disobey and overthrow the current authorities,[10] but the state officials kept accusing Babanov of fomenting ethnic tension. In Kyrgyzstan, the ethnic question is a very sensitive topic, because there was inter-communal conflict between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. As a result of this conflict, more than 470 people were killed, thousands were injured, hundreds of private homes were burned down, and properties were looted. The violence lasted for almost a week.

At the moment Babanov is in Russia. He promised to return to Kyrgyzstan only after the president’s inauguration on 24 November 2017.However, following the president’s inauguration, he has not yet returned to Kyrgyzstan. He was advised not to return at the moment because he might be arrested upon his arrival. Babanov, however, responded to this accusation by stating that: ‘Today, we all witnessed the arbitrariness of law enforcement bodies, which brought an absolutely contrived, political criminal case against me. All this is very clear to see, and we all know about it ’.[11] If we look at the overall election situation, many international observers claim that there was intimidation of Uzbeks, violence towards journalists, and allegations of ballot destruction.[12]The OSCE, for example, also mentioned the issues of ‘misuse of public resources’, ‘reports of undue restriction on media freedom’, and ‘vote-buying’[13]. Some of my informants in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan, complained to me that the state authorities openly threatened Uzbek voters in particular with problems if they did not vote for Jeenbekov. Not only Uzbek informants complained to me during my research, but also school and university teachers told me that they were advised to vote for the pro-presidential party. Another problem was the technical aspects of the elections, which is based on the voters’ biometric data. A number of Kyrgyzstani citizens could not find their names in the voter register, especially those who reside abroad, because they did not undergo biometric registration. On 16 October 2017 Babanov spoke to the media, claiming that ‘there was no fair election because law enforcement authorities interfered with the election’. Despite the elections being unfair, he nevertheless asked his supporters not to publically protest. However, an interesting aspect emerges here, because the newly elected president Sooronbai Jeenbekov comes from Atambaev’s inner circle, as mentioned above, and continues his policy. Local experts argue that Jeenbekov will guarantee Atambaev’s inner circle status and protection from harassment or prosecution. For example Farid Niyazov, previously Atambaev’s advisor, has been appointed Jeenbekov’s adviser. After all, the faithful supporters of the president, who had been serving all those years, should be safe. Atambaev himself will have the status of president (with the privileges) and will not be further prosecuted. Therefore, Jeenbekov was the best candidate because many loyal supporters of Atambaev and members of his circle (the most informed and influential politicians and businessmen in Kyrgyzstan) still continue to enjoy their privileges in terms of getting political support. They support the president, whom they rely on for their security and full protection.

According to Kulnur Ormushev, it is crucial to underscore the security aspect, because Atambaev’s inner circle accumulated a group of enemies and humiliated strong opposition leaders such as Akhmatbek Keldibekov, Aida Salyanova, Omurbek Tekebaev, and Almanbet Shykmamatov. If they wanted to ‘live well’ after Atambaev’s tenure, then they would have to support someone who would provide them with this security. They inevitably came to the conclusion that, for example, they would not find support in Babanov’s team. These circumstances pushed them to oppose Babanov, with whom they would not find the opportunities for compromise. It is possible to coordinate well with Jeenbekov because there is already a historical precedent for this: from conspiracy to betrayal in the interests of those who promise them well-being and protection.[14]


[1]For example, the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev has been president since independence; the president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, was the only president until his recent death in 2016. A new president was only appointed in Turkmenistan due to the sudden death of the former president. The president of Tajikistan, Emomalij Rahman, has been the head of state since 1994. All these presidents follow the authoritarian form of governance.
[2]The one-term rule was introduced following the constitutional change; from then on, the president can be elected only once. Under Otunbaeva, Atambaev served as prime minister of Kyrgyzstan for one year (2010-2011).
[3]Fumagalli (2016: 196)
[4]Crosby Alan. 2017. “Jeenbekov Wins Kyrgyz Presidential Election Outright, Preliminary Vote Count Shows” Published October 15, 2017, RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service Accessed 08 November 2017
[5]“Jeenbekov Wins Kyrgyz Presidential Election Outright, Preliminary Vote Count Shows”,15 October 2017.RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service
[6] KTRK News, 15 October 2017.
[7] Titova, Aleksandra (2017) “Ja vernus, a oni nikogda”, published 08 October 2017.
[8]Travlya na Babanova.,published 21 September 2017.
[9] Djanibekova, Nurjama (2017) Kyrgyzstan: “Criminal Case Opened Against Losing Presidential Candidate”,4 November 2017,
[10] Travlya na Babanova., published 21 September 2017.
[11]“Omurbek Babanov prokommentiroval svoe ugolovnoe delo”, Kaktus, published 04 November 2017.
[12]Putz, Catherine (2017) “A New Kyrgyz President Takes Over in Bishkek”,
published 24 November 2017.
[13]International election observation mission Kyrgyz Republic /Presidential election, 15 October, 2017
[14] Maslova, Dina (2016). Kulnur Ormushev. “Posleslovie o kandidatah v presidenty i okruzhenii Atambaeva”, Published 06 December 2016 [], Accessed 17 March 2017
  • by Aksana Ismailbekova

    Aksana Ismailbekova is a lead researcher for Kyrgyzstan in the project “Informal Governance and Corruption –Transcending the Principal Agent and Collective Action Paradigms”, funded by the British Academy (BA) – DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Program (ACE) and led by the Basel Institute on Governance (2016-2017). Ismailbekova was research fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) (Center for the Modern Orient) in Berlin (2011-2015), where she was a member of the competence network “Crossroads Asia.” She conducted her doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale, Germany (2006-2012).

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