Kyrgyzstan is a country that has overthrown its president twice in the past years. Corruption and unemployment belong to its biggest struggles and political unrest has been dominant since its independence. After the Tulip revolution in March 2005, and the fleeing of president Askar Akayev, Kurmanbek Bakiyev was elected President. However, he was ousted in April 2010 after being accused of nepotism and corruption. An interim government was established, led by interim President Roza Otunbayeva (SDPK). She called a referendum in June 2010 in which Kyrgyz citizens voted in favour of the introduction of a parliamentary democracy and constitutional changes, including curbing presidential powers. The first largely free and fair parliamentary elections took place on 10 October 2010, followed by presidential elections in October 2011, which were won by Almazbek Atambaev. The country became the first parliamentary republic in Central Asia. The process of democratization, however, did not happen without the disbandment of several coalitions between 2012 and 2016. In October 2015, the second free and fair parliamentary elections were held in Kyrgyzstan, leading to a big victory for the Pro-Russian Social Democratic party (SDPK). The presidential elections of 2017 were won by former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a supporter of the SDPK. By joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Kyrgyzstan has taken steps to tighten relations with Russia.
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- 6,132,932 (2018)
- Governmental Type:
- parliamentary republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Social Democratic Party (SDPK), Kyrgyzstan Party, Bir Bol (Be United)
- Last Elections:
- 15 October 2017 (presidential elections)
- Next Elections:
- October 2020 (parliamentary elections)
Political overview since Kyrgyz independence
Kyrgyzstan declared itself independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. From Kyrgyzstan's independence in 1991 until 2005 the republic was ruled by President Askar Akayev. At first, Akayev was considered a liberal president, but his regime turned more authoritarian the longer he was in charge. In 2002 demonstrations against his rule broke out for the first time. Akayev promised to step down from office in 2005 after three presidential terms, but instead he tried to secure his power in other ways. Mass protests erupted in March against his rule following the parliamentary elections in February 2005, because of the obvious failure to meet (international) democratic standards, such as a balanced media coverage. This led to the Tulip Revolution that officially started on 24 March 2005, during which the opposition, demanding the president’s resignation, clashed with pro-government protestors. After the president had been overthrown, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, opposition leader and former prime minister, was appointed as acting PM in March 2005, but he too was ousted in 2010. Thereafter an interim government took control and a new parliament was elected. In 2015, relatively peaceful elections took place, followed by the forming of a coalition with SDP at its top, which dissolved in 2016 after a corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Temir Sariyev and an internal dispute over a referendum. The presidential elections in 2017 marked the country’s first regular transition from power of a president who has been in office for the entire constitutionally defined term to his elected successor. Former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov won the election with 55% of all votes.
After the parliamentary elections of February 2005, in which the opposition parties lost to pro-government parties, protests started over alleged election fraud. Protesters, especially in the southern part of the country, demanded new elections and the resignation of President Askar Akayev. The term ‘Tulip Revolution’ was used by Akayev himself in a speech, warning that no “Colour Revolution” should happen in Kyrgyzstan after the non-violent revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2004. When a bomb exploded in the house of oppositionist Roza Otunbayeva, many blamed the government for the attack. Opposition MPs gathered outside the parliament building and protests throughout the country intensified. Akayev fled to Kazakhstan but refused to resign and was invited to Russia by Putin himself. A number of political prisoners were released and the election results were declared invalid. An interim government was formed, with former prime minister Kurmanbek Bakiyev named as interim president and Akayev was officially degraded. Because of the breakdown of the government, lawlessness was present in Bishkek and the rest of the country. The interim parliament was accused of continuing some of Akayev’s policies and unrest remained. In the following presidential elections of July, Bakiyev and Kulov ran against each other. Bakiyev won the elections and became president, while Kulov became Prime Minister until Bakiyev ousted him in 2007.
Violent anti-government demonstrations & ethic violence in 2010
April 2010 thousands of demonstrators went out to the streets of Bishkek to air their dissatisfaction with the regime. When President Bakiyev came to power he was soon seen as an autocratic ruler. The protests turned violent on 7 April, after Bakiyev ordered security forces to arrest demonstrators. Consequently, protesters attacked the police and tried to storm the government building. Police reacted by shooting at the demonstrators, killing an estimated 85 and leaving many more injured. The violence continued for several days and Bakiyev fled to the southern part of the country, where most of his supporters lived. In Bishkek the opposition forces formed an interim coalition government, led by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Roza Otunbayeva, who announced plans to call new elections in six months. Ultimately Bakiyev fled to Belarus, while a court in Bishkek began hearing the trial of Bakiyev and 27 of his aides in connection with the shooting of protesters that April.
Meanwhile tensions between the Kyrgyz and the ethnic Uzbek minority in the south of Kyrgyzstan came to the surface. On 11 June 2010 ethnic violence erupted in Osh and Jalalabad, forcing about 400.000 Kyrgyz from Uzbek descent to leave their homes. According to official numbers over 400 people were killed. By the end of June the situation was stabilized. It is thought that the ouster of Bakiyev contributed to the tensions, as the Uzbeks mainly supported the interim government, while many Kyrgyz backed Bakiyev. Interim Leader Otunbayeva acknowledged that her government was not able to ease the tensions in Osh. The Kyrgyz interim government appealed for Russian assistance, but Moscow refused to send in peacekeepers, as did the other Central Asian countries. Both the UN and the EU raised concerns about the situation.
Eurasian Economic Union
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought alternative forms of cooperation with the former Soviet states. In 2010 it launched the Eurasian Customs Union, which all members of the Eurasian Economic Union (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia) are part of. The goals of this union are “to eliminate trade and non-trade barriers within the union, and to agree on the common external tariff”. Against many protests held in 2014 by activists and NGO’s, Kyrgyzstan entered the EEU in 2015. Critics stated that joining the Russian-led union may threaten the country’s political and economic independence through a pressuring influence. Sanctions put on Russia in the past have also been negatively affecting EEU members since they are dependent on the leader’s development help. But Russia has a competitor in Kyrgyzstan. China belongs to the biggest creditors in the country and heavily supports improvements in infrastructure. Until now, both influencers have not interfered in each other’s projects.
Since the country’s independence, Kyrgyz women have been the most emancipated compared to other countries in Central Asia. Women make up 52 percent of the Kyrgyz society and 42,5 percent of the labour force. Article 3 of the constitution prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic origin or religious belief. The civil, penal, labour and family codes of Kyrgyzstan all uphold equal rights and the legal framework protecting Kyrgyz women’s rights complies with international standards. However, in practice the widespread discrimination and violence against women increases. Crimes of bride kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment and domestic violence are often not being reported to authorities, although most of them are illegal since 2013. Women are usually ill-informed about their rights and the traditional patriarchal system perpetuates gender-based stereotypes. In 2005, only men sat in the Kyrgyz parliament, then a law was adopted that requires parties to have at least 30% female candidates on their list. Currently there are 23 female MPs in the 120 seats parliament.
Political parties in Kyrgyzstan are highly personified. People tend to vote for a person rather than for the party’s ideology or program. This originates in the country’s lack of trust in the state and authorities due to corruption, organized crime and nepotism. Informal, local and trusted leaders often hold higher positions in the people’s mind. Most of them are senior leaders, leaders of women’s councils and youth leaders in communities. Sometimes also religious officials play important roles, depending on the region. Accordingly, the political parties focus on their list of candidates which they constitute out of people enjoying popularity and influence among the population. Similarly, most politicians do not regard political parties as much more than a vehicle to get into the parliament. One of the results is the existence of more than hundred political parties in the republic.
Until 2010 Kyrgyzstan was a presidential republic, but since its new constitution, power has been transferred to the parliament and prime minister, making it a parliamentary republic. The president is elected every six years and is restricted to one term. The parliament is elected every five years and consists of 120 MPs. The prime minister, as the head of state, is appointed by the parliament’s absolute majority (50%).
On 4 October 2015 parliamentary elections were held in Kyrgyzstan. 14 political parties participated in the election. One of the requirements for parties to register for election, is to have a list of 120 candidates and both genders have to make up at least 30 percent of the voting lists. Ethnic minorities have to make up at least 15 percent of the voting list. No party is allowed to occupy more than 65 seats in the 120 seat parliament, while a 7 percent threshold is in place for election. An estimated 60 percent of the 2.7 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the elections.
According to the Central Election Commission the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) was the official winner of the elections of 2015, gaining 27 percent of the votes, which corresponds with 38 seats. In total 6 parties passed the electoral threshold and entered parliament.
|Party||Seats in parliament||% of the votes|
|Social Democratic Party (SDPK)||38||27,4 %|
|Respublika-Ata Jurt (Fatherland)||28||20,1 %|
|Kyrgyzstan Party||18||12,8 %|
|Onuguu (Progress)||13||9,3 %|
|Bir-Bol (Unity)||12||8,5 %|
|Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party||11||7,7 %|
During the elections biometric ID cards were used to identify voters. The cards were scanned to identify voters by their fingerprints in order to stamp out voter fraud, which had led to protest in previous elections. There were some flaws with the system, leading to problems for 3 to 5 percent of the voters. According to the OSCE the elections were fair and transparent, which is unique for the region, although there were some reported small flaws and irregularities.
On 15 October 2017 the latest presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan were held and marked the country’s first time, a president completed his constitutional defined term and transitioned power peacefully to an elected successor. The Kyrgyz president is elected by direct universal suffrage. The candidate who wins more than half of all votes wins, there are no turnout requirements for the election’s validity.
The main opponents in the race were prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, nominated by the outgoing president’s Social Democratic Party (SDPK), and former prime minister and businessman Omurbek Babanov, who is the leader of the conservative-nationalist Respublika-Ata Jurt (Fatherland), the second strongest party in parliament. There were 9 other candidates, including one woman and altogether three former prime ministers. Jeenbekov won the election with 55% of all votes. He stated that he will do anything to be worthy of the trust the people have given him. Additionally, he said that his task is to strengthen the economy and maintain achievements from the past.
% of votes
Sooronbay Jeenbekov (SDPK)
Adakhan Madumarov (Butun Kyrgyzstan)
Temir Sariyev (Akshumar)
Candidates who got less than 1% of the votes are not included
The campaigns of the candidates focused mainly on personality. Therefore, switching sides during the campaign was easily done by many candidates because none of them followed a strict ideology. The most important issue was how the candidates related to the deep divide between the north and the south of the country. Especially Jeenbekov built his campaign on his high influence on politicians from the southern provinces. As a candidate who was handpicked by the outgoing president and his party, which remains the strongest one in parliament, he heavily emphasized on continuing the policies of president Atambaev.
The campaigning was accompanied by raised tensions between Kyrgyzstan and its neighbour Kazakhstan. The diplomatic dispute after a meeting between the presidents of both countries resulted in harshly voiced opinions of the candidates. The Kyrgyz government formally accused Kazakhstan of supporting the strongest opponent Babanov.
The OSCE noted irregularities, but still called the election one of the most competitive in Central Asia. The technical execution was “well-administered” and the voting itself went mostly without bigger problems. Minor problems were noted during the vote count and ballot secrecy. A more significant problem was the media freedom, which was in part restricted and showed a bias on the president’s candidate. Popular independent media agencies were sued and fined by the government. Accusations included insulting the president. Experts said that Atambayev tried to keep criticism on him and his candidate as small as possible.
Furthermore, political opponents of the president and his candidate were sent to prison, the most prominent one being Omurbek Tekebayev, leader of the Ata-Meken (Fatherland) Socialist Party, which has 11 seats in parliament, and held a position of a strong rival. He was sentenced to eight years in prison because of alleged corruption two months before the election and could therefore not participate. Tekebayev denied the accusations, saying that it was a politically motivated case. He is currently serving his sentence in prison.
Constitutional Referendum 27 June 2010
On 27 June 2010, the Kyrgyz citizens voted in a referendum for the introduction of a parliamentary democracy after the ethnic unrest in the preceding weeks. Many people were unsure whether to proceed with the referendum considering the many (Uzbek) people who were homeless at that time. The interim government decided to pursue the referendum, because it would also give legitimacy to the new government. Over 90 percent of the participants voted in favour of the proposed constitution.
According to the new constitution, no political party can be created on religious or ethnic grounds, and members of the armed forces, police, and the judiciary are not allowed to join a party. Another significant change is that the president has lost the right to appoint all 13 members of the Central Election Commission. This key electoral body now consists largely of independent civil society leaders.
The voter turnout at the referendum was nearly 70 percent. OSCE monitored the elections and stated that “although there were evident shortcomings, the reported high turnout indicates citizens' resilience and desire to shape the future of their country”. Some Uzbeks had problems with voting, because their passports were destroyed during the riots or they were afraid to leave their neighbourhoods to vote. The interim government decided that people could vote without their passport if they registered their home address at a municipal office. Overall, the international election commissions administered the process in a largely transparent, collegiate and timely manner.
Former presidentRead biography
Leader Respublika - Ata JurtRead biography
Leader Ata MekenRead biography
Interim president 2010-2011Read biography
Chairman of SDPKRead biography
Leader of Kyrgyzstan partyRead biography
Leader of Onuguu-ProgressRead biography