18 October 2018

Thursday, 10:42



The first peaceful power-shift in the history of Kyrgyzstan



The recent presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan have become one of the most significant political events in the post-Soviet space. The country that has survived several revolutionary fractures leading to a change in state leadership experienced the first peaceful power-shift in its history in the Central Asian region.


Achievement of the free Kyrgyz

Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov will replace the incumbent president Almazbek Atambayev as the candidate from the party of power in Kyrgyzstan. He scored almost 55% of the votes ahead of his nearest opponent, opposition candidate Omurbek Babanov (more than 20%).

Foreign observers and interested centers are almost unanimous in their opinion: the elections were held democratically, without any serious violations. Moscow and Washington, which usually differ in their assessments of the electoral process in the CIS, recognized the results of the elections as well. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump congratulated Jeenbekov with the victory. Bishkek politicians and experts believe that the almost identical reaction of such multipolar world centers to the Kyrgyz elections is a convincing indicator of transparent and fair voting. At the same time, a special acknowledgement was expressed to the incumbent president Almazbek Atambayev, who has ruled Kyrgyzstan for the last six years. In fact, it is the second election process on the account of Atambayev's government, the results of which are recognized as fair by all influential world actors. The first were parliamentary elections two years ago, which did not cause anyone any doubts about transparency and lack of fraud.

Undoubtedly, there is a lot of pathos in the assessment of the personal role of Atambayev in promoting the Kyrgyz democracy, which was remarkable for the repeated burst of civil confrontation and violent overthrow of power. The political elite of Kyrgyzstan, in the course of the experience gained over the past years of confrontation with not-justified regimes and rejection of authoritarian rule, developed a kind of insubordination syndrome. Therefore, it is no surprise that Atambayev has demonstrated remarkable flexibility in achieving inter-elite compromises. He has managed to keep under control all possible costs of democratic creativity of compatriots who, in the framework of the stable political space supported by the current leader, have become a kind of Kyrgyz phenomenon. In the essence of it is a peaceful shift of power from one politician to another for the first time in the history not only of independent Kyrgyzstan, but also of Central Asia in general. This is undoubtedly a major achievement of Kyrgyz politics, even though Atambayev will be replaced by a representative of the ruling power, Jeenbekov, who won the elections thanks to a relatively large part of the electorate.

The affiliation of Atambayev and Jeenbekov to a single political camp will likely ensure continuity of Bishkek’s strategic line in the international arena. The incumbent president of Kyrgyzstan showed himself as a supporter of Eurasian integration, taking into account that under Atambayev, Bishkek supported the priority of the Russian vector of its diplomacy. However, the development of a strategic partnership with Moscow does not mean that Bishkek is a force that challenges the West. The attitude of Euro-Atlanticists towards Kyrgyzstan, laid down since the Americans were granted the use of the Manas airfield, is generally calm, which confirmed the rather loyal attitude of the U.S. and Europe towards the results of presidential elections.

Surprisingly, amidst the generally benevolent atmosphere of Kyrgyzstan's relations with the powerful powers of the world (which is mainly due to the objectively non-ambitious positions of Bishkek in Central Asian geopolitics), a dialogue between Kyrgyzstan and fraternal Kazakhstan suddenly deteriorated during the presidential race.


Brothers must live in friendship

The worsening of relations between Kyrgyz and Kazakhs, bound by a common historical past, somewhat overshadowed the loud recognition of the elections. However, in contradictions with such a regional heavyweight as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan manages to confirm the reputation of a small but proud country, whose leader demonstrated an ability to conquer the heights of political daring.

Back in September, after the patriarch of post-Soviet and Asian politics, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan met with opposition candidate for presidency of Kyrgyzstan Omurbek Babanov, Almazbek Atambayev accused Astana of interfering in the internal affairs of his country. The sharp statements of the Kyrgyz leader did not pass unanswered: Kazakhstan refused to send its observers to the elections in the neighboring republic, put up military checkpoints on the border with Kyrgyzstan, complicated the Kyrgyz border crossing to Kazakh territory, which caused huge traffic jams and queues at a number of checkpoints. In addition, Astana strengthened veterinary control of food products from Kyrgyzstan, imposed a ban on the import of products from five Kyrgyz dairies under the pretext of "violation of phytosanitary standards," and stopped import of a large batch of fruit in which quarantine pests were found. Officially, Astana again raised issues related to the smuggled import of Chinese goods from Kyrgyzstan to the territory of Kazakhstan and other member-states of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). In addition, Kazakhstan expressed dissatisfaction with "unauthorized" re-export of Kazakh goods to third countries through Kyrgyzstan.

It seems Kazakhstan has a real concern about similar problems. However, the fact that their aggravation occurred precisely at the time of presidential elections brings experts to the conclusion that the election of the Kyrgyz leader is not a matter of interest to Kyrgyz people only. Being the largest and most influential state in the Central Asian region, Kazakhstan has an obvious interest in political powers in neighboring countries.

Nevertheless, Bishkek reacted quickly and sharply to Astana’s restrictive measures. In his address to Kyrgyz military, Atambayev said that "people with a three-thousand-year history will never be afraid of a three-day blockade and will never elect foreign" errand boys "for money or pressure and threats... And when someone wants to set fire to a neighbor's house that the wind can change, and your own house will burn." However, the Kyrgyz leader did not burn the bridges, and added a phrase that contributed to a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Astana: "As neighbors, we always must live in peace and friendship, help each other."

However, the Ministry of Economy of Kyrgyzstan did not hesitate to appeal to the Eurasian Economic Commission (ECE) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) with a complaint about strengthening of control by Kazakhstan on the common border. The Kyrgyz parliament has received a draft of bill on denunciation of the agreement signed with Kazakhstan, which envisages Astana’s assistance under the EAEU terms for $100 million to improve the customs infrastructure of Kyrgyzstan and bring the veterinary and phytosanitary systems of the republic in line with the EAEU standards. "We decided to say no to these funds. In other words, we no longer need them," said Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Duyshenbek Zilaliyev, making it clear that Bishkek will look for other sources of funding – internally or externally.

Obviously, the intensity of contradictions serves neither political nor long-term economic interests of both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Therefore, the Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sapar Isakov flew to Astana, where he met with his Kazakh counterpart Bakytzhan Sagintayev. The heads of government agreed to take effective measures to lift the restrictions that hampered free movement of citizens and cargo. Immediately after this, the Kazakh checkpoints began more active in passing traffic and people who want to cross the border.

Furthermore, prime ministers agreed on measures to improve relations that deteriorated during the presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan, addressing issues of economic cooperation, cooperation in border, transport, phytosanitary and veterinary control, customs and tax administration, taking into account the relevant norms and rules of both EAEU and WTO. Therefore, we can assume that Astana and Bishkek will soon overcome differences in the interests of two truly fraternal peoples and states.

Such a perspective serves the interests of both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, and the entire Turkic community, including Azerbaijan, which supports the closest and most constructive cooperation among the brotherly Turkic nations.