On the tail of Kyrgyzstan’s fourth election this year, President Sadyr Japarov seems to have finally secured an allied parliament but this apparent victory hasn’t come without opposition. After a largely peaceful election day, allegations of ballot counting blackouts, fraud, and widespread corruption still linger. So far, the results portray a Jogorku Kenesh (Supreme Council) far less diverse than years prior. Will these protests follow the precedent set by last year’s parliamentary election, or will these results stand?
Until votes began to be counted on November 28th, it seemed that the main news story surrounding Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election would be the record low 34% voter turnout, contrasted with the near 60% turnout in 2020. An electoral law approved in July restructured parliament, removing 30 parliamentary seats, lowering the vote threshold from 7% to 5%, and adopting a split ballot system that threw some voters into confusion. Voters received two ballots, one district-specific and one organized by party with 54 individual squares representing specific candidates. Despite this setback, most polling stations were reported to be in working order and well-organized, but the procedural successes of the day quickly faded as voters turned their eyes to the Central Election Commission (BShK) monitor. After a few hours of standard ballot-counting, the monitor—and the 70% of the vote that had been tallied—went black. When the monitor returned 90% of the vote had now been counted. Some opposition parties, like social-democratic Ata-Meken (Homeland) and cultural nationalist Uluttar Birimdigi (Unity of Nationalities) saw not only their percent of the vote reduced but found tens of thousands of votes had mysteriously vanished and their seats revoked. While ten parties had passed the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation forty minutes earlier, only seven maintained their seats after the blackout. This at first glance appears to be a Japarov push, with three pro-government parties winning nearly half of the seats in the Jogorku Kenesh, but even these parties were not safe from the malfunction. While Japarov officially belongs to the Mekenchil party, its standing as an extra-parliamentary entity required him to establish especially close ties with right-wing party Ata-Zhurt (Fatherland). Ata-Zhurt has received nearly 20% of the vote in the days following the election but was among the parties whose vote count dropped dramatically in the brief blackout. The BShK further invalidated around 120,000 ballots, representing 10% of the votes cast. Japarov rapidly complied with mounting demands for a recount, allowing all ballots to be counted by hand though it remains unclear if invalidated ballots will be reinstated.
In the days before the election, government officials detained fifteen, alleging a coup plot involving 1000 aggressive young people protesting the election results was underway. Of course, given that the October 2020 parliamentary elections currently being replaced resulted in a coup that overthrew former President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, post-election unrest is fully within the realm of possibility. What should raise alarm bells about these arrests is the statement made by the State Committee for National Security (UKMK), chaired by former head Ata-Zhurt, Kamchybek Tashiev. Without naming any suspects or detainees, the UKMK claimed that current deputies of the Jogorku Kenesh and former high-ranking officials were instrumental in this plot. This assertion is a blatant attempt to discredit any opposition or protest surrounding the transparency of the election. Coupled with Japarov’s threat that election officials would “answer with their heads” if any foul play was uncovered, the expectation of a government loyal to Japarov is clear. His emphatic pledge of a free and fair election operates less as a promise than as a strict narrative to follow.
The leader of Ata-Meken, Omurbek Tekebayev, called for full annulment of the results, citing errors with the hand-counting process as well. On December 1st Tekebayev was assaulted by a large mob while en route to a meeting with heads of other parties. He was quoted: “They want to enforce the outcome of the vote, not with a decree from the Central Election Commission, but with fists and the threat of political terror.” This approach of intimidation appears to have found success. Dozens took to the streets of Bishkek the day after the election to protest the BShK’s conduct, but the rallies do not carry the same energy seen in protests last year. As the wait for the final BShK tally winds down, so does the window of opportunity for the opposition. In the coming days it remains to be seen whether protests will continue to emerge, but it seems unlikely. Political unrest is not unfamiliar to Kyrgyzstan, but in a year marred by a pandemic, botched elections, and a looming electricity crisis, exhaustion is setting in. While citizens are more concerned with keeping their lights on and combatting rising COVID-19 infections, Japarov is consolidating all the power he needs to maintain a hold on the nation for years to come.