Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan: From Atambayev’s “heroism” to Zheenbekov’s Victory

Last Sunday, Kyrgyzstan held the presidential election through which the Kyrgyz people are going to have their fifth president. Even though the Central Election Commission (CEC) has not yet declared the winner, everyone is considering Sooranbai Zheenbekov as a next president.

Егемен Қазақстан
19.10.2017 18292

Similar to a favorite Hollywood movie Kyrgyzstan had its own eleven on Sunday. Unlike Danny Ocean`s mates, the Kyrgyz’s eleven fought for the presidency of the country.

Despite the abundance of nominees, there were two main candidates: Sooranbai Zheenbekov who represents the current president Almazbek Atambayev and Omurbek Babanov who represents the business.

As CEC reports, the preliminary results show that Mr. Zheenbekov and Mr. Babanov had 54,2 % and 33,36% of votes respectively. Although the official results are to be released within 20 days, we might say that Mr. Zheenbekov is the next president of Kyrgyzstan as final results on elections usually coincide with preliminary data and there were no reports on cruel violations of voting procedure.

Kyrgyzstan: on the eve of election

This election was unusual, interesting and intriguing, and here`s why.

Kyrgyzstan had undergone two revolutions in which angry people overthrew then presidents. Afterwards, the Kyrgyz people had to amend the Constitution of the country applying term limits. From that moment onwards, a person could be president only for one term. Knowing the easiness of changing the Constitution in developing countries every one was wondering whether Atambaev would leave the post or succumb to the temptation and whether the transition of power will go smoothly. Finally, Atambayev announced that he was not going to claim for the next term. However, we do not know if he had made this decision by adherence to his ideals and principles or simply by fear of provoking the third revolution. If Mr. Atambayev had wanted to stay further and changed the main law, it would definitely have had its consequences. The people who are used to rebel against the ruler might have taken that kind of decision negatively. That is why we cannot be sure whether Mr. Atambaev made a “heroic step,” as he puts it.

Anyway, if this election is to be legal and Mr. Babanov does not request for another election or call people to rebel, it is going to be the first peaceful transition of the power.

Atambayev’s “heroism” against Kazakhstan

The presidential election in neighbor countries is always special of interest for Kazakhstan. However, this time the curiosity on Kyrgyzstan’s election kept increasing with geometric increment due to slanderous speeches of Atambayev towards Kazakhstan and its authority. Within only two weeks, there were at least three tirades from him. At the same time, he gave an interview to Time where he again castigates Kazakhstan.

It was quite unusual for the person who always expressed his сompliments to President Nazarbayev and Kazakhstan underscoring its huge role in the development of Kyrgyzstan. Therefore, there must be very serious reasons behind sudden harsh criticism against Kazakhstan.

He started the series of calumniation from blaming the Kazakh authority for interfering the election by officially meeting with Mr. Babanov who was gaining more and more support among the citizens and this could have an undermining effect on Atambayev’s candidate Sooronbai Zheenbekov.

The Kazakh side answered that the meeting with main candidates jibes with international practice and the Kazakh president previously had met with Mr. Zheenbekov too. By the way, Atambaev himself met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin back in 2011, when he was a candidate for the presidency, and Roza Otunbayeva, then the transitional period president did not express disappointment.

Apparently, there were other motives to drive the Kyrgyz leader. Kazakh expert Erlan Karin thinks that it was a political technology to сreate a foreign enemy to call for unity and direct the negative emotion towards oppositional candidate Omurbek Babanov. If this is true, we can draw a parallel between Almazbek Atambayev and the US president Donald Trump who is notorious for similar behavior. During his own campaign, Mr. Trump also kept accusing everyone who stayed on his way. He was maligning Muslims for “terrorism”, mass media for “fake news” and President Obama for “everything”. Probably, Mr. Atambayev learned a lot from the last presidential election in the US.

Other experts see Russia’s hand at Atambayev’ unexpected “brave” behavior. Despite the fact that accusations to Kazakhstan are also applicable to Russia, he is still flattering Vladimir Putin. In his interview to the Time, he says that Putin is a smart person and no one wants to understand him. While praising Russia’s President Mr. Atambayev mentions western countries including the US with a negative connotation. If we admit that it Russia to affect Atambayev, we can speculate on the country’s rationale.

Kazakhstan recently declared about the transition from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet. The news evoked negative reaction among the Russians who perceive this step as if they are losing one of its essential parts. Moreover, revitalizing of Silk Way through the One Belt One Road Initiative might also irritate Russia’s establishment. Because the arising of the new Silk way might nullify the efforts on building the true Eurasian Economic Union, to which Vladimir Putin toiled a lot. It is well known that Russia does not want to lose Kazakhstan from its orbit, especially when it has a complicated relationship with almost all developed countries.

Back to the aftermath of the election

Experts said that in case of second round Babanov would have better chance to be president. However, as results show, Sooronbai Zheenbekov somehow managed to win a majority in the first round of voting. Babanov’s proponents wanted that he rejected the results, but he did not give in to the seduction and said the following:

“We had an election and you got the results. If you ask whether I accept the results, I would say that the election is done, there is a candidate who received the majority vote and won these elections”.

Even though Babanov said that he lost because of dirty election technologies of power, he is quite optimistic about how the election ended: “We unequivocally won, our victory lies in the fact that we have changed the consciousness of the people, have given people the confidence that it is necessary to speak their word, we can legitimately prove our rightness.”

After these words, we can be sure that nothing threatens the presidency of Zheenbekov unless he fails to manage appropriately.

Atambayev vs Kazakhstan: What’s next?

On the eve of the election, common people living near the border were complaining about strengthening border control from the Kazakh side. Everyone thought that it was a retaliation act to Atambayev’s words. However, the Kazakh Government denied that and said that it is common practice. Then we saw how the Kazakh border control found an infection on the Kyrgyz goods and arrested lieutenant colonel of the Kyrgyz Armed Forces, ostensibly for having narcotic substances when crossing the border. In reply, Kyrgyzstan spread the news, which says that it is going to release some amount of water of Kirov reservoir due to “reconstruction works”, indirectly threatening to flood Kazakhstan’s territory. The reservoir is located on mountainous landscape near the border and in case it releases a great amount of water, the water flux will go to Zhambyl region wiping out everything on its way. Experts say that the water can reach the city of Taraz with 350 thousand dwellers. Thus, information attack turned to real acts.

The burden of de-escalating the crisis and improving the situation lies on the newly elected President. However, there are at least two problems. Atambayev’s term will expire on December 1; he has one more month. It is enough time to complicate the relationship between two countries further to the highest degree leaving the post with the difficult condition. The second problem is that Sooronbai Zheenbekov is Atambayev’s henchman. That is why if Zheenbekov wants to make Kazakhstan a good friend he might encounter a dilemma. On the one hand, there is economic interest with Kazakhstan; on the other hand, there is a loyalty.

Anyway, what happened the last two weeks might long serve as an interesting case in considering international affairs among Central Asian countries. For the last 25 years, the first quarter of the Independence, former Soviet states in Asia paid much attention to the stability where there was no room for such kind of political disputes. Intermittently, presidents were criticising each other, but that did not lead to any serious conflict. That is why these temporary “misunderstanding” before the election might be one of the most vivid moments in the relationship between two countries. Moreover, Atambayev’s outrageous accusation revealed so many problems that previously were covert. Maybe it is a trigger to reestablish the ties between fraternal nations from its base.

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