Sadyr Japarov has officially been sworn in as the sixth president of Kyrgyzstan. A sense of democratic stability has potentially come to the former Soviet Union state, but there may come more potential threats to Kyrgyzstan’s democracy with the election of the nationalist-populist leader. Kyrgyzstan has been a hotbed for political instability.
Two revolutions and an election in 2020 which showed quite clear signs of voter fraud, stability has not come easy to the nation of 6.4 million people. Japarov’s rise to power is one that cannot be separated from this instability and was a byproduct of said instability. Spending time in a Kyrgyz prison for charges related to an apparent attempted kidnapping of ex-governor Emilbek Kaptagaev (a charge which Japarov vehemently denied), Japarov was freed after protesters protesting the rigged election of October 2020 broke into the prison and set him free. With the protests raging on and the resignation of the former President, Japarov was named acting President until new and fair elections would be held.
On the 10th of January 2021 snap presidential elections were held and on the 11th of January Japarov was declared the winner with 80 per cent of the vote. Whilst the number may cause concern surrounding election integrity, international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have claimed that the election was well organised and there was no indication of voter fraud. However, the OSCE did also make note that Kyrgyzstan’s media coverage laws surrounding campaign spending did provide a major advantage to Japarov (due to his campaign outspending his nearest competitor by six times their expenditure). This marks a quite clear failure in the law of Kyrgyzstan. With that in mind, Japarov did seem to win the election legitimately.
What does this mean for the Kyrgyz people then? Japarov has made quite clear throughout his campaign that rooting out corruption in the political sphere would be a key cornerstone of his administration. Questions are to be raised however surrounding the intentions behind said corruption removal and if this not just an attempt to remove all power and legitimacy from political rivals. Just one day before his inauguration, former chairman of the State rivals.
Just one day before his inauguration, former chairman of the State Committee for National Security and former presidential candidate (running against Japarov) Abdil Segizbaev was arrested on charges surrounding the abuse of office and the illegal transfer of land. Segizbaev’s charges involve his attempts to prove other political rivals as being involved with the illegal sale of shares in a Kyrgyzstani telecom company. Segizbaev used fraudulent documents to attempt to prove the charges against his rivals which caused charges to be levied against him, but these were ruled out by the Prosecutor General’s Office.
However conveniently three days after the election of Japarov, the decision by the Prosecutor General’s Office was overturned and Segizbaev was officially arrested a day before Japarov’s inauguration. This raises quite clear concerns surrounding the legitimacy of Japarov’s claims of rooting out corruption and whether this is just a power play against political rivals.
Japarov’s presidency brings forth political stability for the Kyrgyz people, but what else does the presidency aim to bring? Questions have been raised about Japarov’s proposed constitutional amendment changes and purported intentions of moving Kyrgyzstan away from democracy and towards authoritarianism. As one Feminist activist told Deutsche Welle (DW) whilst protesting Zhaparov’s reforms leading to the end of freedom of speech (before his election) in Kyrgyzstan, they stated “I have the impression that Sadyr Japarov is creating a constitution that allows him to stay in power for life…” Coupled on top of these attempts to subvert human rights and maintain political power by manipulating legal avenues, Japarov has already shown a concerning trend of using the veil of corruption to incapacitate political rivals. Kyrgyzstan’s 6th president has shown quite clear and concerning trends that may harm Kyrgyzstan’s democracy and the international community must keep its focus on the Central Asian nation.
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