Kyrgyzstan’s Historic Elections: A Guide

Election posters in Bishkek, October 2010

Kyrgyzstan’s political drama that began with the overthrow of President Bakiyev in April, violent ethnic clashes in the country’s south in June, and a constitutional referendum two weeks later reaches it next pivot point in parliamentary elections that take place on Sunday.   

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva hopes for a strong turnout and orderly proceedings that will give a new government the credibility and legitimacy needed to address the country’s growing problems.  Key issues include the economy and corruption, but simmering nationalism and ethnic issues remain. Opinion polling suggests the parliament will be highly fractured. The winning parties’ leaders will likely have an exceedingly difficult task agreeing on a new prime minister and government under the country’s new parliamentary system of governance.  

A police advisory mission agreed upon by members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has yet to deploy to Kyrgyzstan, and much of the $1 billion in foreign assistance promised for the country is on hold pending the elections and other developments. In sum, Kyrgyzstan’s problems remain immense. The coming 6-9 months will show whether Kyrgyzstani democrats can come together successfully to take on the country’s problems – or whether division and dysfunction will continue to dominate. 

Political Scene 

Kyrgyzstan’s June 27 constitutional referendum was by all accounts a success. Despite the turmoil associated with ethnic Kyrgyz-Uzbek violence in the country’s south just two weeks earlier, turnout nationwide was 70 percent. Nine out of ten voters approved a new constitution that establishes Central Asia’s first-ever parliamentary government deliberately designed to curb presidential powers and to ensure against majority-led despotism and corruption. President Otunbayeva gained an important measure of legitimacy. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Initiatives and Human Rights (ODIHR) gave the referendum two thumbs up. OSCE/ODIHR mission head Ambassador Boris Frlec concluded that, “It is now up to all political forces to work together to improve the electoral framework ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections and build a democratic society based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.” 

Before and after the referendum, Kyrgyzstan’s interim authorities took steps to unwind various aspects of the Bakiyev regime. It dissolved a government agency on development, investments and innovation that was used as a political and business vehicle by the former president’s son, Maksim Bakiyev, who was its chairman.  Investigations began into alleged economic and political crimes committed by the Bakiyev family and its entourage, including diversions of foreign aid. Judges accused of abetting Bakiyev regime misdeeds have been sacked, and various ambassadors, including those to the United States, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Ireland and Malaysia were dismissed.  Perhaps more controversially, the chairman and a number of staff members of the Central Election Commission were replaced.  Charges of corruption continue to swirl around Bakiyev regime figures – and, unhelpfully, around interim administration players. In part to address public aggravation about corruption, President Otunbayeva signed a decree requiring polygraph testing for a number of positions to ensure recruitment ‘clean’ state employees. 


Kyrgyzstan is struggling to address staggering economic difficulties. Its budget deficit is forecast to reach 10.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2010. The country faces acute external debt issues that led President Otunbayeva, speaking in New York during the opening of the UN General Assembly, to request relief.  In hopes of recovering funds stolen during the previous regime, the government decreed an amnesty for those who admit to economic crimes and agree to bring ill-gotten money back. By the October 1 deadline given to alleged miscreants, this measure had brought scant results.  

The costs of reconstructing the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad are another large burden on the state – one which the coming winter makes urgent. International donor promises to Kyrgyzstan amount to some $1 billion, but little of this has been allocated pending the elections and action by Kyrgyzstani authorities to address the underlying causes of the ethnic violence that took place in June. 


The most tangible security support that Kyrgyzstan has received – the OSCE’s undertaking in June to deploy a small police advisory team – has stalled. President Otunbayeva gave some blessing to this police mission, but has essentially backtracked in the face of vociferous objections by the mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov, and others, including members of her own government. The issue has become a hot topic in parliamentary election campaigning – reportedly supplanting the U.S. airbase at Manas as a target of political ire. Some hope the police assistance deployment will go forward after Sunday’s election. Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha reportedly told ITAR-TASS that his organization will help Kyrgyzstan’s security forces, and CSTO technical assistance continues. Direct intervention, however, seems highly unlikely under almost any circumstances. 


A robust OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission will observe Sunday’s balloting. Voters will be considering candidates for all of 120 seats in parliament that will be allocated on a proportional basis, subject to a 5% nationwide minimum threshold, a requirement to obtain significant numbers of votes in the country’s various oblasts and a limit on any one party’s total representation. Unofficial results should be known within a couple days of voting, and the final vote tabulation and allocation of parliamentary seats should be published within two weeks. The leading party has 15 days after publication of the official election results to form a new government. If it fails to do so, then other parties can attempt to form one. If after three tries there is still no agreement on a government, the president can dissolve the parliament, and electioneering starts over. Kyrgyzstan’s new constitution is, of course, untested, and it remains to be seen how the government formation process will in fact work. 

Some 29 political parties are registered to contest for seats in parliament.  Observers regard this election as the most competitive in Kyrgyzstan’s history.  Published platforms of the various parties have many similarities, including calls to return power to the people, restructure the government, reform state institutions, revive the economy, restore peace and security, and eradicate corruption.   The following are the leading parties. 

Ata-Meken (Fatherland) is one the oldest parties in Kyrgyzstan.  It has been headed since 1992 by Omurbek Tekebayev, a former speaker of parliament and deputy chairman of the interim government. Ata-Meken is strongly nationalist on economic issues, opposing outside meddling or dictates on economic management or reform. 

The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) was established in 1993. Almazbek Atambayev, a former prime minister and later deputy head of the interim government until he resigned in July, leads the party. The SDPK is a strongly socialist party that emphasizes economic revival and development of agriculture, tourism, mining, and other key sectors of the economy. Russian Prime Minister Putin held a very visible meeting with Atambayev in early September, presumably signaling a level of Russian backing for his party and candidacy. 

Ata-Jurt (which can also be translated as Fatherland) was established years ago by current interim President Otunbayeva.  It now emphasizes its collective leadership – and therefore its lack of fealty to any single leader. It advocates a detailed investigation of the causes and consequences of the ethnic violence in June, as well as economic and other support for the southern part of the country. 

Respublika, headed by business leader Omurbek Babanov, is another personality-based party created in 2007. Babanov was once a deputy prime minister. Respublika seems both pro-Russian and pro-European, and it supports greater engagement in the Eurasian Economic Community, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the CSTO. 

Ak Shumkar (White Falcon) was founded in 2005 as the “Union of Democratic Forces.” It is headed by former interim government finance minister Temir Sariyev, an ambitious politician who has particularly tried to appeal to younger voters. Like other political figures, he has been accused of corruption. The party program includes details on social security, education, health, agricultural and business development, and an activist foreign policy. 

Ar-Namys (Dignity) was established in 1999 and is now headed by Felix Kulov, an ethnic Kalmyk who, among other things, speaks little Kyrgyz.  Kulov has been a senior Kyrgyz official for much of the country’s independent history. He served as prime minister under Bakiyev, but later broke with him. Today Kulov emphasizes his military rank and experience to promise stability and security.  He visited Moscow in September, presumably in a bid to win Russian support. 

Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) is a new party chaired by long-time parliamentarian Adakhan Madumarov, whose last position in government was as secretary to the Security Council. It appears to be a nationalist party and has decried the threat of religious fundamentalism in the country. 

Aikol El (Generous Nation) is another new party. Edil Baisalov, a long-time civil society and political activist who briefly served as chief of staff to interim President Otunbayeva, heads it. The party emphasizes its progressive character and the absence among its candidates of people who served as ministers to former presidents Akayev or Bakiyev. 

A recent opinion poll conducted under the auspices of Kyrgyzstan’s Institute for Public Policy showed public support for these parties as follows: 









Ak Shumkar




Butun Kyrgyzstan


Remaining parties garnered less than 2%, while 23% declined to give a preference and 5% opposed all parties. 

The coming several weeks will be dramatic in Kyrgyzstan and pivotal for the country’s future. Elmira Nogoibaeva, chief of “Polis Azia,” a political think tank, suggests that the most difficult struggles will take place after the election and in negotiations to form a new government. If it succeeds, Kyrgyzstan will become the first parliamentary republic in Central Asia – and then the new government will face the gargantuan tasks associated with rebuilding the country and restoring internal harmony in an exceedingly difficult part of the world. Failure would be a setback for the prospects for democracy, stability and prosperity in Kyrgyzstan and in Central Asia – and would make none of the country’s or the region’s many problems easier.

Ross Wilson is the Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to Turkey from 2005 to 2008. Meerim Abdieva is an independent political analyst in Bishkek who does occasional work for the Atlantic Council. This piece builds upon the work of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Task Force. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Related Experts: Ross Wilson

Image: 610x_35.jpg