Kyrgyzstan’s electoral commission said Tuesday it had scrapped the results of a disputed vote and would hold fresh parliamentary elections, after protesters stormed the seat of government and the opposition claimed to have seized power.
Government and opposition figures were jostling for control of the former Soviet republic Tuesday, after a night of unrest that plunged the country into political chaos. Officials said at least one person was killed and 590 wounded amid Monday’s night’s uprising, which saw protesters ransack the presidential office and free the country's former president, Almazbek Atambayev, from a nearby detention center where he was being held on corruption charges.
President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, whose office was stormed by angry protesters Monday night, said the protests were an attempt to overthrow the government, and refused to relinquish power, as reports emerged that the opposition was formulating its plans for an interim administration, and an opposition politician claimed the role of acting Interior Minister.
The political chaos erupted in the wake of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, which had been marred by what international monitors called credible allegations of vote-buying. Only four of 16 parties passed the 7 percent threshold for entry into parliament, with the two parties that swept the vote being openly supportive of Jeenbekov.
Alex Melikishvili, a principal research analyst at IHS Markit, told VICE News that the Oct. 4 elections had been marred by serious irregularities, with widespread reports of vote-buying, voter confidentiality being disregarded and public sector employees being pressured to vote for pro-government parties.
“Kyrgyzstan is a very poor country and there were a lot of reports of vote-buying,” he said.
Kate Mallinson, an associate fellow at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, told VICE News that Jeenbekov’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic had also stoked dissatisfaction with his leadership, and had plunged many Kyrgyz into poverty, making them more susceptible to efforts to buy their vote.
“Dissatisfaction with President Jeenbekov’s mishandling of the pandemic and endemic corruption is widespread,” she said. “The COVID-19 pandemic impoverished vast swathes of the Kyrgyz population, pushing them to the brink of starvation and making them vulnerable to vote-buying.”
She said that rival forces were still jostling for control of the country of 6.5 million people amid the chaotic aftermath of Monday’s uprising.
“The situation is extremely fluid, with negotiations and power plays currently taking place behind the scenes between the key players and groups,” she said. “Opposition leaders have come forward and appointed themselves to senior positions, but President Jeenbekov is refusing to relinquish power.”
She said there was a clear public demand for Jeenbekov to go, and a high probability that he would be ousted within a few days. “Russia will play a decisive role in his longevity as president,” she said.
Melikishvili said that the unrest had been calmed somewhat by the electoral commission’s decision to annul the disputed elections, and that an ongoing emergency session of the country’s legislature could play a critical role in finding a solution. “If the parliament impeaches President Jeenbekov, the crisis will be somewhat defused,” he said.
Opposition parties had gathered for a peaceful mass rally Monday, calling for Jeenbekov's resignation and a do-over election, before events spiralled spectacularly out of control.
Footage showed riot police using tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades in their attempts to hold back mobs of protesters, who were able to force them into retreat in places.
Protesters then stormed the government building, climbing fences or forcing their way through gates. Video circulated on social media showed wild scenes as protesters ransacked the complex, including Jeenbekov’s presidential office and the legislature, throwing paper from the windows as fires burned in parts of the building before being extinguished by emergency services.
The former Soviet republic has previously experienced uprisings that overthrew authoritarian presidents in 2005 and 2010, and has been blighted by corruption. Analysts said that Jeenbekov’s departure would help to defuse the current tensions, but wouldn’t spell an end to the turbulence.
“We can expect a political rollercoaster over the next few weeks as different groups and players vie for influence and fill any vacuum that Jeenbekov creates if he leaves,” said Mallinson.
“Whether the republic can break its cycle of corrupt leadership depends on whether we see … new, younger leaders being allowed to enter the government.”