Kyrgyzstan’s embattled president Sooronbai Jeenbekov announced his resignation Thursday, saying he was stepping down to try to defuse a political crisis and avoid bloodshed in the divided central Asian nation.
The country of 6.5 million people has been in chaos since a 4th of October vote that was swept by parties loyal to Jeenbekov, and marred by allegations of widespread vote-buying.
The results prompted mass protests in which opposition supporters stormed government buildings and freed jailed political figures, resulting in clashes in which one person was killed and more than 1,000 injured. The uprising forced the resignation of the cabinet and prompted the country’s electoral commission to annul the election results, creating a volatile political vacuum.
Opposition groups had also demanded the resignation of Jeenbekov, only three years into a six-year term, but he had insisted he would stay until new parliamentary elections were held. On Thursday, though, following fresh protests on Wednesday demanding his ouster, he announced he was standing down for the good of the country.
“I do not want to go down in the history of Kyrgyzstan as a president who allowed bloodshed and shooting on its people. I have taken the decision to resign,” he said in a statement.
“For me, peace in Kyrgyzstan, the country’s integrity, the unity of our people and calm in society are more important than anything else. Military personnel and law enforcement agencies are obliged to use weapons to protect the residence of the head of state. In this case, blood will be shed. It is inevitable. I urge both sides not to succumb to provocations.”
Alex Melikishvili, a principal research analyst at IHS Markit Country Risk, told VICE News that Jeenbekov’s resignation was “very significant” as it satisfied the second major demand of the opposition, after the annulment of the recent election results.
But he said Jeenbekov’s departure was not a magic bullet that would put an end to the chaos.
“The political crisis is not over yet and there is a general atmosphere of lawlessness in the country,” he said. Social media footage from the capital, Bishkek, showed protests continuing in the wake of Jeenbekov’s announcement Thursday.
Kate Mallinson, an associate fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, told VICE News the fresh parliamentary and presidential elections would need to happen “to restore some semblance of legitimacy to the governance of the country.”
But she said the open scars from the charged recent protests, as well as the deep-seated corruption and deepening poverty that underpinned the uprising, were unlikely to heal quickly.
Jeenbekov's resignation came a day after he had approved parliament’s decision to elect nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov as the new prime minister.
Melikishvili said the appointment of Japarov, and the confirmation of his cabinet gave grounds for optimism that the new government could begin asserting its authority to shore up stability in the country in the coming days.
But Mallinson said she was wary about the “meteoric rise” of Japarov, who had been serving jail time for hostage-taking before he was freed by supporters during last week’s uprising.
She said the new prime minister’s condoning of mob protests and threats against Jeenbekov didn’t suggest a return to calm in the short term. His return to the political limelight, alongside other former politicians with tainted reputations, had dampened the initial optimism that the protests might bring a fresh broom to Kyrgyzstan’s corrupt political class.
Kyrgyzstan has been through spasms of political volatility since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, with uprisings unseating three of its presidents in that period.