As Dust Settles in Kyrgyzstan, is it Business as Usual?
Things seem to be settling down in Kyrgyzstan. Following weeks of chaos in Kyrgyzstan which led to the ouster of the pro-Russian Kyrgyz President Sooroonbai Jeenbekov, a nationalist opposition figure, Sadyr Japarov, has risen to become both Prime Minister and Interim President of the Kyrgyz Republic. Mr. Japarov, sentenced in 2017 to an 11-and-a-half-year prison sentence for kidnapping an elected official, was freed by protesters on October 6. As the dust settles, Mr. Japarov is quickly moving to consolidate his position as leader of a country that has just ousted its third president in a 15-year period.
President Japarov has made electoral (and constitutional) reforms a priority. On October 22, President Japarov swiftly signed into law a bill that would delay both new Parliamentary and Presidential elections, with new Parliamentary elections moved from December 20 to a time between January 21 and June 1. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Japarov has resigned his position as Interim President (though not his position as Prime Minister) so that he can legally run for President of Kyrgyzstan and secure a full presidential term, solidifying his control.
Further electoral reforms will reduce the barriers for parties running in parliamentary elections. While prior to the protests, the voting threshold was seven percent, it will now become three percent. In addition, the deposit contender parties must submit to the election commission will be reduced from $62,000 to $12,300.
President Japarov further intends for the constitutional reforms to remove the Forma-2 ballot, which allowed for people to vote in a precinct that is not their official place of residence. Implemented to account for the massive scale of internal migration, it has been exploited to engage in vote-buying. However, this reform could also very well disenfranchise many voters who do not work in their registered precinct.
Beyond his focuses on electoral reform, President Japarov has promised (perhaps to distance himself from his kidnapping conviction) to go after crime and corruption. To this end, he has already made two high profile arrests.
The first arrest was against notorious millionaire Rayimbek Matraimov (nicknamed Rayim Million), who through his fortune he allegedly amassed as deputy head of the Customs Service through a massive smuggling empire, has bought politicians throughout Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Matraimov, on October 20 (with his lawyer) went to the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) where he was taken into custody.
Within hours, he was remanded to house arrest after agreeing to pay the Kyrgyz state for damages to the sum of 2 billion Kyrgyz Soms ($24.6 million), of which he has already paid $991,200. That Mr. Matraimov was not kept in prison awaiting trial has led to some critics speculating that his arrest is nothing more than theater. Kyrgyzstan waits to see if Mr. Matraimov will face trial or any serious consequences.
The GKNB made a second high-profile arrest by taking into custody Kyrgyzstan’s notorious crime boss Kamchybek Kolbayev in Bishkek on October 22, utilizing an APC and detachment of heavily armed special forces. While there are no charges against him as yet, the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek immediately praised the arrest. The United States has long targeted Mr. Kolbayev; the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on Mr. Kolbayev in 2012.
The new Kyrgyz government has also made moves to assure its neighbors, especially Russia, that it is otherwise business as usual. Kyrgyzstan’s new foreign minister, Ruslan Kazakbaev, spoke in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on October 23. Mr. Kazakbaev informed reporters that there will be no change in the “strategic partnership between the Kyrgyz Republic and the Russian Federation.” Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has taken steps to cooperate with the new Kyrgyz government. Though memories linger of the 2010 Osh riots in southern Kyrgyzstan that claimed hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks’ lives in a bloody pogrom, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have recently started to work more closely together. Bilateral trade jumped from $50 million to $818 million in the three years since President Karimov’s death. This comes as Uzbek President Mirziyoyev seeks to open up Uzbekistan and bolster regional cooperation.
As Kyrgyzstan restabilizes following Mr. Japarov’s rise to power, it seems that little has changed other than who sits in the presidential palace.