BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: Central Asian Kyrgyzstan holds presidential polls Sunday that are likely to see populist Sadyr Japarov go from prisoner to president following a crisis over a disputed parliamentary vote.
Unrest began the day after the October 4 vote, as losing parties took to the streets to decry large-scale vote-buying campaigns that benefited parties close to then-president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
By night-time the protests had morphed into clashes with police, with one protester killed as several prominent politicians, including ex-leader Almazbek Atambayev and populist Japarov were freed from jail.
The days that followed saw politicians jostle to fill a power vacuum, with Japarov’s supporters the largest of the groups insisting on Jeenbekov’s immediate resignation despite authorities cancelling the vote results.
Kyrgyzstan is no stranger to volatility, with revolutions unseating successive presidents in 2005 and 2010.
But the sudden nature of the crisis appeared to take even key ally Russia by surprise.
President Vladimir Putin‘s Deputy Chief of Staff Dimitry Kozak flew to Bishkek to meet with both Jeenbekov and Japarov.
While the visit was seen as bolstering Jeenbekov’s position, he resigned just days later, citing the need to avoid bloodshed as a crowd backing Japarov gathered close to his official residence.
Japarov acted as head of state until November when he stepped down from the post to run in Sunday’s presidential vote.
In his first televised address to the nation on October 16, the new acting leader pledged “a real fight against corruption” and said that organised crime “will stop dictating its terms”.
But Japarov’s critics fear his main aim is to concentrate power in the style of the strongmen who rule in neighbouring post-Soviet countries Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
On Sunday Kyrgyzstan is also to choose between a presidential form of government championed by Japarov and parliamentary rule.
While work on the new constitution will continue after the vote, it seems likely the new basic law will allow repeat terms for sitting presidents, which was banned in 2010 to curb authoritarianism.
Japarov quit his executive roles in November after seeing loyal allies installed in key positions and a potential electoral rival — former premier Omurbek Babanov — rule himself out of the contest.
Since then, the vote favourite has packed stadiums in campaign rallies across the country, basking in the glow of fawning crowds while failing to attend any of the televised debates between candidates.
During one theatrical appearance in his home region of Issyk-Kul, Japarov was “blessed” by seven male elders sporting extravagant national garb.
Earlier this week he took to Facebook to criticise small demonstrations against the referendum in the capital Bishkek.
“From now on, we must learn to reckon with the people,” Japarov wrote.
“If someone does not want this, we will teach them.”