By Taylor Cain
Kyrgyzstan’s ruling party candidate, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, won the presidential election on October 15 with more than 54 percent of the vote. His primary opponent, Omurbek Babanov, received almost 34 percent of the vote, while nine other candidates split the remaining votes. A runoff election is not necessary since one candidate received an outright majority of the votes, RadioFreeEurope reports.
Incumbent President Almazbek Atambaev was unable to seek a second term due to 2011 constitutional changes that limit presidents to one six-year term. Atambaev endorsed Jeenbekov, a longtime political ally, during the campaign, and Jeenbekov promised to “preserve what has been achieved, to strengthen what has been started” by the Atambaev administration.
Both Jeenbekov and Babanov served as prime minister during President Atambaev’s tenure, which RadioFreeEurope says “[raises] expectations of policy continuity in a country that has to balance the often-competing interests between neighbors Russia and China.”
Russia remained neutral in the election, but Kyrgyz President Atambaev and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev exchanged public corruption accusations following Nazarbaev’s endorsement of Babanov in September. President Atambaev criticizes President Nazarbaev and the Kazakh government for intervening in Kyrgyzstan’s internal affairs, BBC reports.
Babanov had close ties with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors prior to serving as prime minister in 2012,
“Elsewhere in the region the only intrigue is whether the ruling president will get 99 percent of 105 percent of the vote,” a senior diplomat told The Guardian. Kyrgyzstan’s election was a regional anomaly because Jeenbekov, despite being a candidate from the ruling party, was not guaranteed to win. It was not anticipated that he would get an outright majority in the first round of voting. RadioFreeEurope reports that “a September poll by the Western-backed NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society” had Jeenbekov at 41 percent and Babanov at 39 percent, which is nearly 10 points away from a majority.
The transfer of power from President Atambaev to Jeenbekov will be the first transfer under the 2011 constitution, and the first peaceful transfer following two violent revolutions in the past 12 years, according to The Guardian. Both revolutions ousted the presiding president: the 2005 “tulip revolution” replaced Askar Akayev with Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was subsequently thrown out of office in 2010.
However, Kyrgyzstan’s political climate has deteriorated in recent years due to the government’s ill-treatment of political opposition. The Atambaev administration had been criticized for its repression of free speech and media, and threats to citizens who criticized President Atambaev on Facebook.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern over Kyrgyzstan’s human rights violations, including media suppression and the torture of detainees by law enforcement. In a statement on October 19, they asked the incoming Jeenbekov administration to allow journalists and human rights monitors to operate safely in the country. Additionally, they called for the administration to support and protect survivors of abuse, and address violence against women.
Though the election marked a peaceful transition in power, international election observers criticized the high amounts of vote-buying, Human Rights Watch reports. The Jeenbekov campaign was accused of vote-buying, according to the BBC, and the Babanov campaign was given three warnings by the Central Elections Committee for violating campaign rules by vote-buying.