Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary vote amid rising tensions

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The vote is expected to be in favor of allies of President Sadir Zaparov, who has tightened his grip since coming to power last year.

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Kyrgyzstan is voting in parliamentary elections as tensions mount after claims of a populist plot to oust President Sadir Zaparov, who came to power last year in post-vote unrest.

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In the capital Bishkek, where both Russian and Kyrgyz languages ​​are spoken, there were no signs of enthusiasm for Sunday’s vote, which is expected to turn a 90-seat parliament largely loyal to Zaparov.

In the three decades since independence, the impoverished former Soviet Central Asian nation has become a byword for instability, in which a combination of corruption, crackdown and anger over alleged electoral irregularities led to the ouster of three presidents during street protests.

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While polls show that Japarov’s government still enjoys popular support, critics say the recent jailing of potential rivals and a constitutional change earlier this year suggest he is repeating the mistakes of predecessors.

His cash-strapped government also faces a difficult future, with a winter energy crisis looming, rising costs of living and trade with next-door China battered by the pandemic.

At a Security Council meeting on Friday, Zaparov acknowledged the country could suffer an energy collapse “at any moment” and blamed corruption in the hydropower sector and outdated equipment for the problem.

Nordin Shorukov, 35, told AFP news agency he would not vote and believed the ballot would be “won by people who have been around for the past 30 years and have not brought anything to the country”.

Daniil Zmirbekov, 18, said he would vote for a reformist party seen as an outside bet for the parliamentary race, with 21 parties and hundreds of district candidates competing.

But Zmirbekov worried that the low turnout would benefit wealthy parties with “no vision” for the mountainous, land-locked country of 6.5 million.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (02:00 GMT) and the first results are expected soon after counting of votes begins at 8 p.m.

Voters queue to cast their vote at a polling station in Bishkeki [Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters]

A ‘coup plot’?

The most recent period of instability in Kyrgyzstan came after parliamentary elections a year ago, when losing parties took to the streets to condemn a vote they said was rigged in favor of parties close to then-president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.

The results of the vote were annulled and the current leader, Japarov, freed from prison during the unrest, was elected president in January.

After consolidating power by overseeing constitutional changes that stripped the single-term limits for incumbent presidents and strengthened his office at the legislature’s expense, Zaparov pledged to “show the world” that Kyrgyzstan is free and fair. can choose.

But opposition candidates have complained of administrative pressure.

Riskeldi Mombekov, a popular independent lawmaker, was removed from the race by electoral officials before his candidacy was reinstated by a judge after supporters of his home region threatened to rally.

More seriously, the state committee for national security said on Friday it was detaining 15 people involved in a plot to overthrow a government involving “MPs and high-ranking former officials”.

The statement did not mention who the authorities had arrested.

President Zaparov and his wife Aigul visit the polling station on Sunday [Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters]

Japarov has no party in the race, although many well-funded coalitions are led by politicians loyal to him.

The outcome of the vote will be watched carefully by close ally Russia, which has promised support for the new government after being criticized at the start of the political chaos that brought Zaparov to power.

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