Kyrgyzstan: Authorities must secure free and fair elections

Following the flawed October 4 2021 parliamentary elections and the subsequent resignation of president Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the current political leadership of Kyrgyzstan must secure that new elections be transparent, free and fair, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said in a statement today.

On October 4, Kyrgyzstan held parliamentary elections marred by fraud, widespread vote buying and misuse of state resources. Amidst the mass-protests and political unrest that followed, several high-ranking officials, including the country’s premier minister and president resigned. Both positions have since been filled by former parliamentarian and convicted kidnapper Sadyr Japarov.

The Central Election Commission has tentatively set December 20 as the date for new parliamentary elections. A new president must be elected within 90 days of the sitting president’s resignation leaving January 13 as the latest date for the next presidential elections.

“Kyrgyzstan’s current political leadership did not ascend to power through legitimate elections and must see as its main task to facilitate free and fair elections in line with democratic principles, so that the people of Kyrgyzstan can elect a president and a new parliament enjoying popular legitimacy,” said Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, Acting Secretary-General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Only by electing a political leadership with its legitimacy anchored in free and fair elections can Kyrgyzstan achieve genuine and long-term political stability.”

In order to facilitate free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, authorities in Kyrgyzstan must guarantee the observance of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and genuine press freedom – the state must safeguard the safety of all journalists, both from government oppression and from threats from criminal elements.

As a precondition for creating a climate in which free and fair elections can be held, authorities must also lift entry bans on those international human rights defenders and journalists that are currently barred from entering the country, and allow all international actors, without violating COVID-19 regulations, to freely observe and report on the developments inside the country, including the run-up to the upcoming elections.

While previous Kyrgyz elections have seen authorities employing state resources to favour certain candidates and parties, the current political leadership must ensure a level playing field and make sure that no state resources are misused to the benefit or disadvantage of any one political party or candidate. This includes resources under the presidential administration, state media and law-enforcement and security bodies, and all other resources and powers at the hand of the state.

As widespread vote-buying characterized the October 4 elections, the authorities must implement serious and meaningful actions to combat this practice, and should consider enforcing a ban on mobile phones in voting booths – typically, a voter will need to show a photograph of his or her filled-out ballot in order to receive payment for the sold vote.

During the recent political unrest and rioting, Kyrgyzstan’s civil society has proven to be an invaluable resource as swaths of volunteers guarded and protected government buildings, stores and shops etc. from mobs and looters. Authorities should tap into this resource and involve civil society in large-scale election observation under the coming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Background

Protest erupted throughout the capital of Kyrgyzstan when the results of the flawed October 4, 2021 parliamentary elections showed clear victories for two pro-government parties. Thousands massed in the central squares of Bishkek protesting vote rigging and demanding new elections and the resignation of the government. During the unrest, protesters and rioters stormed central government buildings, as well as penitentiary holding facilities, breaking out amongst others former parliamentarian and convicted kidnapper Sadyr Japarov and former president Almazbek Atambayev.

On October 6 prime minister Kubatbek Boronov conceded to the pressure from the protests and resigned. As different factions navigated the ensuing power vacuum and vied for position, Sadyr Japarov’s block proved to be the more assertive one, while his supports in the streets demonstrated a willingness to assert politics through violence. On October 7, a group of parliamentarians convened in a Bishkek hotel surrounded by his supporters, and proclaimed Sadyr Japarov prime minister.

Parliament officially approved Japarov’s appointment on October 14. On the following day, when Japarov’s supporters threatened to storm the presidential residence, president Jeenbekov resigned stating that he was not willing to shed blood. In the event that the president resigns, the presidency falls on the speaker of parliament according to the constitution. However, recently appointed speaker Kanat Isayev was bypassed. Instead, the prime minister Sadyr Japarov, was made president.

When his supporters broke him free of prison on October 5, Sadyr Japarov was serving a sentence for kidnapping after a 2013 plot to abduct the governor of the Karakol region.

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