Kyrgyzstan on the eve of elections. What should we expect?

The presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, scheduled for October 15, are just a few weeks from now. The presidential term of the current head of state Almazbek Atambaev ends on December 1 this year and, according to the constitution, he cannot run for president again.

Initially, 59 candidates for the top office submitted their applications to the Central Election Commission. 13 have remained so far: ex-vice-mayor of Bishkek Ernis Zarlykov, human rights activist Toktayym Umotalieva, ex-prime minister Temir Sariyev, ex-deputy Ulukbek Kochkorov, political director of the UN Special Commission in Afghanistan Taalatbek Masadykov, ex-prime minister Omurbek Babanov, businessman Arstanbek Abdyldaev, former Prosecutor General Azimbek Beknazarov, former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, ex-Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov, ex-deputy Kamchybek Tashiev, president of the Union of Kyrgyz Friendship and Cooperation Societies Arslanbek Maliyev and ex-head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations Bakyt Torobayev.

The President of the Kyrgyz Republic is elected for a six-year term. One person can be elected to this post only once.

A correspondent of and IWEP expert Zhumabek Sarabekov explain some interesting aspects of the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan.

# 1 What is the difference between the current election and the previous one?

Kyrgyzstan is our closest neighbor and strategic partner. The processes taking place there have a direct impact on us. The proximity of the cities of Bishkek and Almaty should be particularly noted. Therefore, the presidential elections scheduled for October 15 are of great importance for Kazakhstan. They will determine the vector of the internal political situation in the republic for the near future.

Political life in Kyrgyzstan has always been highly dynamic. High uncertainty characterizes any electoral campaign here. The current elections, like the previous ones, are distinguished by a large number of candidates for the presidency. In total, 59 people applied for registration as a presidential candidate, 13 of which were admitted by the Central Election Commission for participation in the pre-election race.

The main intrigue of the October elections is whether President Atambayev and his team can maintain the succession of power and ensure the victory of their candidate or an opposition representative will occupy the post of the head of state.

If the candidate from the team of the incumbent president wins, we can expect a serious strengthening of the political positions of Atambayev and his party SDPK. Otherwise, a new force may emerge in the political space of Kyrgyzstan, which can subsequently significantly change the balance of power.

# 2 Which of the candidates can still be distinguished?

I would single out the three strongest runners for the presidency. This is the former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, leader of the parliamentary faction "Republic-Ata-Jurt" Omurbek Babanov, former Prime Minister Temir Sariyev.

All the candidates mentioned above have vast political experience, they have the support of elite groups, and some of them have significant financial and information resources. It is noteworthy that the remaining candidates today tend to unite around these three players.

For example, one of the candidates and the leader of the “Onugu-Progress” parliamentary faction Bakyt Torobayev and the leader of the “Butun Kyrgyzstan” party Adakhan Madumarov, who is also the candidate for the presidential office, decided to support Omurbek Babanov. In turn, one of the leaders of the southern elites, ex-MP Kamchybek Tashiev, said he would support the candidate from the SDPK, Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

In general, the analysis of the pre-election situation shows that the central struggle is likely to unfold between Jeenbekov and Babanov. The first, as already noted, is a candidate from the presidential team and the SDPK party, whose leader is Atambayev. The second represents the conditional Kyrgyz opposition. Why conditional? Because the opposition in Kyrgyzstan is far from being united and is unlikely to unite. The authority of President Atambayev backs the first candidate, which is the reason the other candidates accuse the authorities of the attempts to use the administrative resource. Besides, he served as prime minister until recently and showed himself as a good executive.

In general, Jeenbekov is one of the most influential politicians of the south. In turn, Babanov also enjoys the support of elites, both southern and northern. He is also very popular with the population and has significant financial and media assets.

Thus, none of the candidates may be viewed as an absolute favorite. At the same time, it should be noted that an essential factor for Kyrgyzstan voters in any election is the regional affiliation of the candidate or party. Unfortunately, regionalism is still preserved in the country, which is characterized by the opposition of the north and the south of the republic.

# 3 What challenges is the successor of Almazbek Atambayev facing?

Atambayev's successor will have to tackle growing social and economic challenges, which requires the support of all political forces in the country.

It should be noted that, compared to Atambayev, the new president of Kyrgyzstan will be curtailed in power. Last December, a referendum was held in the country, which led to the introduction of some amendments to the country's constitution, strengthening the power of the prime minister and the ruling parliamentary coalition. Therefore, under the new conditions, Atambayev's successor will need to find common ground with the parliament.


 # 4 How can the political course of the country change after the presidential election?

In my opinion, we should not expect any drastic changes in Kyrgyzstan's foreign policy after the presidential elections. The most likely successors are within the system and have a good idea of ​the geopolitical situation in the region. In this regard, the new president will likely continue to pursue a multi-vector policy, as the Kyrgyzstan side understands it.

This also applies to Bishkek's participation in the EAEU. The intermediate results of Kyrgyzstan's membership indicate that joining the economic union has brought the country some benefits in the form of better conditions for its labor migrants.

For example, money transfers of Kyrgyz migrants in 2016 grew by 20 percent compared to 2015, which, compared to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where the volume of transfers decreased, is a growth indicator. In addition, some Kyrgyzstan enterprises have expanded their supply to the countries of the EAEU.

Therefore, it is unlikely that the new president will advocate for secession from the economic union. At the same time, changes should be expected in domestic politics.

So, if the ruling team headed by Atambayev fails to ensure the succession of power, important changes may take place in the post-presidential period in the political life of Kyrgyzstan, which according to the updated constitution is almost a full parliamentary republic.

It is crucial that the political forces of the country succeed in building an optimal system of checks and balances.