Kyrgyzstan Protesters Seize Parliament Over Election Results Marred By Vote-Rigging

Thousands of protesters in the Kyrgyzstan capital Bishkek stormed the country’s parliament on October 5th angry over the results of an allegedly rigged election from the previous day. As the demonstration turned violent, one person died, and hundreds sustained injuries. According to Al Jazeera and the BBC, the events follow a decade of relative political stability in Kyrgyzstan.

The October 4th election was allegedly rife with vote-buying practices and corrupt activity. In Kyrgyzstan, politics is dominated by powerful families aligned with Russia. In the election, a total of sixteen parties contested 120 seats in the parliament. Only four parties crossed the 7% threshold required for entry, and the two parties closely associated with current pro-Russian President Sooronbay Jeenbekov—the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party and the Birimdik party led by his brother—dominated the election, each with about 24% of the vote, according to Al Jazeera. Altogether, the pro-government parties won 107 of the 120 seats.

Later that day, an international monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe released a statement acknowledging “credible allegations of vote-buying.” In response, twelve opposition parties jointly declared that they would not recognize the results and demanded a rerun of the election, writes Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the New York Times. Two of the parties that failed to clear the 7% threshold staged a brief protest against the parliament, which they promised would continue the following day.

The October 5th demonstrations began as somewhere between five and ten thousand people peacefully surrounded the parliament. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of President Jeenbekov as well as an annulment and rerun of the election. At one point, opposition candidate Ryskeldi Mombekov said to the protesters: “The president promised to oversee honest elections. He didn’t keep his word.”

The protests turned violent as police forces backed by dogs used rubber bullets, water cannons, stun grenades, and tear gas to disperse protesters climbing fences and forcing open the complex’s main gates. Most of the demonstrators retreated, while others broke into the parliament. Video footage shows protesters throwing papers from the windows of President Jeenbekov’s office and smoke billowing from the building. Amid the violence, one person died, and as many as 600 people sustained injuries. Following the demonstration, President Jeenbekov appealed for a return to order, accusing “certain political forces” of illegally attempting to seize power. He also stated that he would consider annulling the election results.

Two thousand protesters returned the following day and freed former President Almazbek Atambayev and opposition Mekenchil Party founder Sadyr Zhaparov jailed in the nearby National Security Committee building. Adil Turdukuov, an activist and ally of Atambayev who witnessed the release, said that police forces had not attempted to halt protesters, and the ex-leader was freed “without force or use of any weapons.” Video footage shows Atambayev greeting supporters after being released from jail.

Later that day, Kyrgyzstan’s Central Electoral Commission annulled the election results, leading to the resignations of Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov and the speaker of the parliament, Dastan Jumabekov. According to Al Jazeera and the BBC, in an emergency session, the parliament then appointed Zhaparov as acting prime minister. Most recently, on October 9th, President Jeenbekov announced that he is “ready to resign” to end the chaos for good, writes France 24.

Still, there is a great deal of “jubilation mixed with uncertainty” in Bishkek, Al Jazeera writes. While change is in Kyrgyzstan’s air, there remains much to be done to secure political stability and growth for the good. The government needs to abandon vote-buying which has effectively led to an entire week of unrest. Namely, family rivalry and the willingness to allow Russian interference in exchange for power maintenance undermine the legitimacy of the country’s sovereignty and democracy.

Furthermore, to reinforce these efforts, the president must fulfill his promise to resign and hold another election as soon as possible. Because the president is central to the corruption that led to this week’s protests, his resignation would restore much of the lost legitimacy. Similarly, an election closely monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is trusted to promote democracy, would aid the recovery of the democratic legitimacy of the country’s voting processes.

These efforts would, in turn, ensure that the violence does not happen again. There is strong potential for peace, as the unhindered protestors on October 6th carried out their goals without the use of force. With a legitimate democracy, voters will have no reason to protest election results, and with no protests, there will be no violence over elections. In all of these ways, Kyrgyzstan may secure long-lasting stability and positive change.