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According to critics, the election of Zhaparov as a president does not mean the settlement of the political crisis, which Kyrgyzstan has faced since last autumn.
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The victory of Sadyr Zhaparov who had been in prison just three and a half months ago serving his 10-year term, has not been a surprise. The figures published by the Central Election Commission, 82 per cent, were a surprise. This is the number of voters, according to preliminary data, who voted for this contradictory politician. This record was demonstrated by Kyrgyzstan back in 2005 – when Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power after popular unrest and won 88 per cent of votes. But five years later, he had to flee the country just like the first president Askar Akayev because of the widespread corruption, poverty and persecution of his critics.
Sadyr Zhaparov promised not to repeat the mistakes made by his predecessors, and firmly believes that we must return to the presidential government, which was ten years ago, in order to fight corruption, develop economy and contribute to overall development efficiently. At the referendum that was held on January 10 along with the presidential extraordinary election, 84 per cent voted for the presidential government.
It means that a new draft of the constitution with the presidential government will be proposed to the citizens of Kyrgyzstan in a few months and it will be obviously approved. Speaking on the Sunday press conference after the announcement of the first results of the election, Zhaparov said the authorities were going to hold both the referendum and parliamentary election before summer begins.
In early October, the authorities in Kyrgyzstan were changed after the unfair parliamentary election. The protesters who were dissatisfied with the election results seized the buildings of the parliament, government and presidential administration on the night of October 6, and also freed some politicians from prisons, including Sadyr Zhaparov, who was serving his 10-year term in prison since 2017 on a charge of organisation of mass disorders and hostage taking in 2013. Amid the political crisis, the new government headed by Sadyr Zhaparov was formed in October 2020, and a week later President Sooronbai Zheenbekov suddenly resigned office and Zhaparov became the acting president.
Zhaparov immediately declared the need to hold the constitutional reform and to return to the presidential government instead of the current parliamentary presidential system. He initiated the creation of the Constitutional council that drafted the new version of the constitution. The new draft of the constitution suggests the elimination of the post of a prime minister, a transfer of all executive powers to the president, the right of initiation of draft laws and restriction of the parliament’s supervising function. According to Zhaparov, this constitution will let the president carry out special reforms and be responsible for their outcomes.
His critics and opponents fear the restoration of the authoritarian regime, which was during the presidential rule of Askar Akayev and Kurmanbek Bakiev. Both fled the country after mass riots in 2005 and 2010, respectively. According to Zhaparov, there will be no authoritarianism in Kyrgyzstan and he will listen to his critics.
In October 2020, Sadyr Zhaparov came to power under controversial circumstances, and a range of key foreign political partners of Kyrgyzstan, including the United States, Russia and European Union, were in no hurry to admit he was legitimate. Now Zhaparov can feel relaxed – one of the first to congratulate him were the president of Russia Vladimir Putin, and leaders of neighbouring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The embassy of the USA and the European Union issued a statement welcoming the election and the referendum results.
In general, the public of Kyrgyzstan, local and international observers have no doubt about the results of the election and referendum. At the same time, local and international observers noted the facts of intimidation of observers and voters at some polling stations in the regions, restriction of work of independent local observers at some polling stations, as well as the prejudiced position of the key state TV channel KTRK regarding the opponents of Sadyr Zhaparov.
Local and international observers have noted a low voter turnout at this election. Nearly 39 per cent of all voters came to polling stations. Almost 56 per cent of voters came to the parliamentary election held in autumn last year. According to the experts, it happened due to the elimination of the so-called form No. 2, which allowed internal migrants to vote at a place other than their registered address, as well as to the poor use of administrative resources and vote buying.
According to political analyst Emil Dzhuraev, low voter turnout can be explained by winter and tiredness of politics.
“After three months of active processes, the country feels some tiredness of politics,” the political analyst said to IWPR. “Also, we felt that the election results were predetermined. Those who were against Zhaparov and the presidential government did not attend the election.”
According to Dzhuraev, the majority of people who voted for Zhaparov also supported the presidential form of government. Now the hardest thing, according to him, is to make people accord and to consolidate public opinion.
Political analyst Chinara Esengul noted that the results of the past election is the result of low political culture and divided public opinions. Also, she said, the world, including Kyrgyzstan, sees a trending populism.
“For me, the election results are not surprising because most people who voted elected Zhaparov,” she said to IWPR.
A phenomenon of Sadyr Zhaparov
Before last October, the country did not take Sadyr Zhaparov as a republican-level politician. His political career started in 2005, when he was elected in his native district in the east of Issykkul region as a member of the national parliament under the single member constituency. In 2007 to 2010, he was an unremarkable mid-tier official during President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
After the regime of Bakiev was overthrown in autumn 2010, he returned to the parliament as a member of Ata Zhurt party, where he raised the question of nationalisation of the gold field Kumtor. He became known to the public in autumn 2012 when he was arrested together with his party fellows Kamchybek Tashiev and Talant Mamytov. After the rally at the central square regarding the Kumtor issue, he and the crowd got over the fence of the ‘White House’ where offices of the president and the parliament are located. A few months later, all three party fellows were released on bail.
In 2013, Sadyr Zhaparov again organised a rally for the nationalisation of Kumtor in Issykkul region, in the vicinity of the gold field. The rallies turned into mass disorders and the governor of the region was taken hostage for some time. The law enforcement bodies reported that Sadyr Zhaparov was the organiser of the riots but failed to arrest him as Zhaparov left the country. Until spring 2017, Zhaparov had lived at Cyprus, Poland and for a short time in Moscow. In March 2017, he decided to come back to the country to take part in the presidential election, but was immediately arrested and then sentenced to 11 years and 6 months in prison.
In his recent interview to the Russian newspaper ‘Kommersant’, Zhaparov explained his success by his active work on social media while being in exile and then under arrest and by delivering his ideas and views to the fellow countrymen.
According to the experts, Zhaparov is a typical populist and came to power by using all options of populism.
According to political analyst Chinara Esengul, the phenomenon of Zhaparov is that the people take him as a victim as he served time in prison. The Kyrgyzstanis follow the politics and make their choice based on their emotions, not cold math. Therefore, now the people want to trust the person who was suffering.
Political analyst Elmira Nogoibaeva said that people have high hopes for Zhaparov.
The people take Sadyr Zhaparov as a kind of a mythological hero who represents neither officials, nor former elite,” Elmira Nogoibaeva said. “Many people take him as their own, a victim of political repression and a martyr. Regional identity is also significant here. Although he was born in Issyk-Kul, he has many followers in the south of the country, plus he’s religious, moderate, has no political enthusiasm, and a big credit of trust.
People will wait for results
Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the world with the annual budget amounting to as low as 2.5 billion dollars. Out of 6 million people, one third are officially below the poverty line, and nearly 1.5 million citizens have left the country to earn money. Corruption and inefficient work of state bodies is one of acute problems. Kyrgyzstan has a large state debt for 5 billion dollars, the majority of which is owed to neighbouring China. Despite numerous requests, Beijing has refused to grant a grace period. Last year, coronavirus has aggravated the tough situation in the country and increased the debt amount by 150 billion dollars taken by the country from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
During the election campaign, Sadyr Zhaparov promised to eliminate the roots of disaster in the country and settle down to a course of steady development.
According to Elmira Nogoibaeva, Sadyr Zhaparov has many challenges to respond as he has come at a difficult period. Now the important issue is the budget deficit and the expected crisis – new sources of budget supply have to be found and the country’s foreign debt has to be repaid. The second, equally important aspect, according to the political analyst, is the regaining of public trust to the authorities.
“What’s important here is how he will form the team. Now most managers are unprofessional. It is also important how he will pursue foreign policy. It is a key issue for migrants,” she said.
“Now it’s time to work. In coronavirus times, when lockdown was announced since last March, the economy has been in recession. I want to wish luck to his team,” said political analyst Chinara Esengul.
According to Nogoibaeva, Zhaparov promoting the presidential government takes control of all powers and refuses from the parliamentarianism, i.e. legal delegation of power.
“I’m afraid his next steps will be taking control of powers. First of all, of security and economic agencies. This is the logic of fear. It is effective, but not in Kyrgyzstan,” said Elmira Nogoibaeva.
His victory does not mean stability, according to Chinara Esengul.
*IWPR-trained journalist contributed to this report.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.
Specialists in economy make downside forecasts regarding the economic situation in the republic for the year to come.
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic announced in early 2020, the economy of Kyrgyzstan became stagnant and suffered bad losses. Actually, such situation developed almost in all countries of the world. Since March, the country introduced strict lockdown measures that were lifted a few months later. Almost all sectors of economy, but food producers, were in stagnation at this period.
Now, the budget shortfall is predicted at 35.6 billion som, and GDP is 4 per cent lower than the expected level because of the pandemic and political events in the country.
The economic crisis has had a direct impact on the welfare of people and their purchasing power. Those people who worked in service industry and lived on daily earnings and were employed in the small and medium-sized businesses were hit so hard.
World Bank’s assessment and forecast
According to the World Bank in Kyrgyzstan, the poverty rate in 2020 can increase by 5-6 per cent in average compared to 2019. According to the pessimistic forecast, the growth can amount to 17.5 per cent.
According to the World Bank, their optimistic forecast failed. According to them, food prices make up 60 per cent of all factors.
According to the World Bank, the main sources affecting the poverty rate in Kyrgyzstan due to the pandemic are: labour income, transfers from migrant workers, and rise in food prices. Thus, the rise in food prices leads to the increased number of people living in poverty. For example, if food prices rise by 5 per cent, the poverty rate rises by 3.5 per cent.
The reduction in money transfers is related to the lockdown measures in Russia and Kazakhstan, where the bulk of Kyrgyzstanis work. In particular, the sectors of construction and service were suspended. The reduction in money transfers will have its impact on Batken, Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions.
“34 per cent of people in Batken region and 23-24 per cent in Osh and Dzhalal-Abad regions live on money transfers. These factors will affect the growing poverty rate. It is worth mentioning that in the last 10 years, money transfers in these regions have played a significant role in the reduction of poverty,” according to the World Bank.
As to the labour income, according to the World Bank, 70 per cent of employed population work in the high-risk sphere during the crisis.
“It’s obvious. The economic activity was suspended. Then, economic activity slowed down. We have outlined three groups of economic activities that are highly exposed to the crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic: average risk – sectors that continued to work at the same level, and even increased production of services, and high risk,” according to the WB experts.
High-risk sectors are retail industry, hotel business, restaurants, construction. These are the industries that employ the majority of poor population. In fact, this leads to the growth of poverty and children are the most vulnerable group.
“Our forecasts show that the child poverty rate will increase depending on economic consequences at least by 36 to 55 per cent. This is quite a high child poverty rate,” according to the WB.
Experts predict a sharp increase in the poverty and extreme poverty rates in Kyrgyzstan in 2020.
According to expert Denis Berdakov, a sharp increase in the poverty rate will be faced by Bishkek, Chui region and Osh, where the majority of economic activities are concentrated. In particular, service industry, retail industry, and small businesses.
Naryn and Batken regions, where previous poverty rates were high, won’t see a sharp gap.
“0.5 per cent of our people live in extreme poverty, according to the statistical data. These people live on less than a dollar per day. According to the latest data, the poverty rate in the country is 20 per cent. Dzhalal-Abad, Naryn and Batken regions are the regions with the poorest population groups,” he said.
Based on the 2020 results, Berdakov predicts a rise in the poverty rate in Bishkek, Osh and Chui region up to 30-35 per cent.
According to the official data of the National Statistical Committee of Kyrgyzstan, in 2019 20 per cent of people in Kyrgyzstan live in poverty. The poverty rate in Bishkek was 11.9 per cent, in Chui region 19.1 per cent, in Osh 14 per cent.
Speaking about extreme poverty, according to the 2019 data, 35,836 citizens belong to this category in the republic. The majority of citizens living in extreme poverty reside in Osh region – 12,050 citizens, in Naryn region – 7 thousand people, in Dzhalal-Abad and Issyk-Kul regions – 6 thousand people each. Last year, no one in Bishkek, Osh and Talas region belonged to the category of extreme poverty.
The expert in economy Adilet Mamatov added that high poverty rates are expected in 2020 because of the suspension of the service and retail industries, which makes people run into debts.
He said that a massive number of people would slip into poverty, and the middle-class people would fall into poverty.
“The poverty rate will grow up to 15 per cent,” Mamatov said.
According to experts, the situation would be somehow improved by money transfers from migrant workers, but no big contributions can be expected as many Kyrgyzstanis abroad were left unemployed or had to come back to the home country.
According to Denis Berdakov, the countries of the region rely mainly on remittances from migrant workers today, so no significant growth of the poverty rate is expected in Naryn and Issyk-Kul regions.
Coronavirus and coup consequences
According to ex-deputy chair of GKNB of the Kyrgyz Republic Artur Medetbekov, street robberies and looting tend to increase in 2020. He noted that in times of crisis, crimes both at the street and national levels, namely, corruption and smuggling, become most frequent. This is the trend seen in Kyrgyzstan. He specified that small and medium-sized businesses involving the majority of population suffered the most because of the pandemic and political events.
According to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kyrgyzstan, 92,430 cases were filed in 9 months of 2020 with the Unified Register of Crimes and Offences (ERPP). In the same period of 2019, 73,619 cases were filed.
According to the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Kyrgyzstan, crime rates tend to decline, but they failed to provide any information or figures to prove their statement.
What will be with migrant workers?
The lion’s share of migrants from Kyrgyzstan work in Russia. Their money transfers support the significant part of the population of Kyrgyzstan, especially rural citizens. However, coronavirus has affected this sector. The Russian economy, just like in other countries, suffers a crisis, which has reduced the total amount of remittances.
According to the director of the Institute of Social and Economic Studies at the Financial University of the Russian government, Aleksei Zubets, Russia coped with the crisis easier than it was expected. He explained that the economy of Russia would be better than in other countries because after autumn the national government did not introduce a hard lockdown, whereas other countries still have partial or full lockdown.
“On the other hand, we should understand that we won’t see rapid development either. By results of the year, GDP can rise by 2-3 per cent after all fallouts. Next year, we’ll manage to make up for time lost in 2020 and to see a minor growth. Thus, the economy will be developing at a slower pace,” he said.
According to Zubets, unemployment in Russia has risen 3-4 times since the beginning of the crisis. It can cause some irritation towards migrants. In other words, the national government will prefer its citizens when employing. The director of the Institute said that some segments of the labour market can be fully blocked for migrants. For example, the taxi industry in Moscow.
“Migrants were already unwelcome in this sector before the crisis. Russian citizens are very angry over the number of migrants in this industry. The same refers to the construction industry,” he said.
Aleksei Zubets acknowledged that there are no good news for the migrants from Kyrgyzstan so far. According to him, the Russian labour market will be more unavailable for the migrants. The exception is made for qualified specialists such as physicians and teachers.
How to solve the problem?
In the mid-run, according to Denis Berdakov, more emphasis must be placed on creating jobs within the country. By 2022, the world will not need unskilled workers. But the majority of migrants from Kyrgyzstan are unskilled workers.
“We’ll have to give jobs to hundreds of thousands of such workers,” he said.
The expert predicts a large outflow of skilled workers, programmers, physicians, teachers, and others.
“In the short term, it’s the launch of serious projects in Kyrgyzstan that can utilise this workforce. We’ll see a good scenario if we re-launch projects, construction of roads, dams, substations, tunnels, etc. We can pay little money and work for one and a half or two years,” he said.
Besides, the expert said that we needed to train specialists who will be in demand abroad. In particular, we should restore vocational training schools.
“We need to give our citizens an opportunity to find jobs within their specialty in South Korea, Turkey, Japan, Dubai, etc.,” he said.
According to Adilet Mamatov, in the short term, loan repayment holidays must be announced to support people in this situation. People took out loans for their businesses, but businesses are now suspended, and no loans can be repaid. He said that almost all sectors suffer. It affects the purchasing power of people. For example, nearly 800 cars used to be sold and bought on the car market each week, but today this number has fallen down to 120-150.
In the long run, Mamatov suggested to drive up demand for goods and services, create new jobs, and start implementing state and national projects. He admitted that this is a hard yet possible task to implement domestically.
“We should start building new housing, thus creating jobs and raising the product demand. The added value will work here,” he said.
According to Adilet Mamatov, the emphasis should be placed on already available markets for migrants, namely, Russia, Kazakhstan, Dubai, South Korea. However, only skilled workers must seek jobs there.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.
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