Holding a contested election without a foregone conclusion was an achievement in itself. A parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan has produced a legislature with no clear majority, so that a flurry of coalition-building can be expected.
The outcome – a hung parliament – was not unexpected, but there are some surprise winners and losers among the competing parties.
The October 4 polls were the second to be held since a major constitutional overhaul in 2010, and are being seen as a sign of a functioning parliamentary democracy that allows a peaceful transition of power. This stands in stark contrast to other Central Asian states where one party and one head of state win over and over again. It is also a break with Kyrgyzstan’s own past, in which two presidents – Askar Akaev and Kurmanbek Bakiev – accumulated ever greater powers until they were toppled by mass protests.
OSCE election monitors said the voting was largely free and fair with no major violations of the rules. Most of the OSCE’s criticisms focused on the new biometric registration system used to identify voters. Although the system seems to have drastically reduced opportunities for fraud, there were concerns that turnout – at 59 per cent – was lower than it might have been because many people were too late, or in some cases reluctant, to go through the biometric data collection process, a precondition for being listed on the electoral rolls.
Six parties made it into the Jogorku Kenesh (National Assembly), compared with five in the last election.
The Social Democratic Party, with President Almazbek Atambaev as its leader, did better than last time, but did not secure an absolute majority. With 27 per cent of the vote according to preliminary figures, the party can expect 38 of the 120 seats in parliament. The rules say this is not enough to govern alone, so the Social Democrats will need to form a coalition, as they have done for the last five years.
In the most recent arrangement, the Social Democrats have governed alongside Ar Namys and Ata Meken parties. But the former did not overcome the threshold needed to enter parliament, while the latter is only likely to get eight seats and in any case has had serious disagreements with the Social Democrats in recent months. Ata Meken has already declared itself an opposition party.
The obvious choice is the second-placed Respublika Ata Jurt, which with 20 per cent of the vote can expect 28 seats under Kyrgyzstan’s proportional representation system. The party is a merger between Omurbek Babanov’s Respublika party, with a mostly northern constituency, and the nationalist, southern-based Ata Jurt of Kamchibek Tashiev.
Ata Jurt’s relationship with the Social Democrats has been troubled in the past, but Babanov has already indicated that the new joint party is ready to go into coalition.
Tashiev himself will not be taking up a parliamentary seat as he was disbarred after a fistfight which put a politician from a rival party in hospital.
Failing that, the Social Democrats’ only other choice would be to build alliances with the three newcomers – Kyrgyzstan, Onuguu-Progress and Bir Bol, which will get 18, 13 and 12 seats, respectively.
The Kyrgyzstan party’s 13 per cent vote share is the biggest surprise in this election. Created only this May, the party is seen by some analysts as a creation of the Social Democrats, designed to hoover up votes from rivals – something the bigger party denies.
Andrei Grozin, head of the Central Asia department at the Institute for Countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow, argues that President Atambaev will have to engage actively with a range of parties to secure a working government led by his own party.
“There will be no absolute domination. The presidential administration will have to work with all political parties, since 38 [Social Democrat] seats isn’t a majority,” Grozin told IWPR. “It will be a time of intrigue, coalition break-ups, and appointments and dismissals of high-ranking officials. The [presidential] administration will need to keep its finger on the pulse, and it still won’t be able to keep everyone under control.”
Apart from Ar Namys, whose leader Felix Kulov is a prominent figure in Kyrgyzstan, the other losers are Butun Kyrgyzstan Emgek, a merger between parties led by veteran politician Adakhan Madumarov and wealthy businessman Askar Salymbekov; Azattyk, led by former army general Ismail Isakov; and Zamandash, which appeals to the hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyzstan nationals working abroad.
The new coalition and the government it forms will have their work cut out, as the last parliament failed to turn around the ailing economy. The almost inevitable power shortages this winter, and the discontent they breed, are an immediate challenge.
Members of the last parliament were frequently accused of being more focused on their ambitions and personal interests than on political ideals or the urgent problems facing the nation.
“The next step is for the interests of the electorate to give direction to the parties, rather than the pragmatic needs of the moment,” Medet Tiulegenov, a politics lecturer at the American University of Central Asia, told IWPR. “But it’s going to take more than once electoral cycle for that to happen.”
Right and left mean little in Kyrgyz politics, and the major foreign policy issue has been decided in the last couple of years, with the removal of a NATO airbase in Kyrgyzstan and the re-emergence of Russia as the dominant force in the region. In May, Kyrgyzstan joined the Eurasian Economic Union, and President Atambaev has also signed major defence and financial assistance agreements with Moscow.
In the absence of substantive policy differences between parties, Tiulegenov wonders whether there will be any “real opposition” in parliament at all.
“It’s going to be difficult to form an opposition out of several parties. But there won’t be any ideological battles among them, as there aren’t any ideas on which they’re divided,” he said.
Timur Toktonaliev is IWPR’s Kyrgyzstan editor.