WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 567 Part 1, February 20, 2009

KYRGYZ LEADER TRIGGERS ELECTION TALK  President’s announcement that he plans to 
go for a second term sparks debate on poll date.  By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek


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President’s announcement that he plans to go for a second term sparks debate on 
poll date.

By Anara Yusupova in Bishkek

Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiev’s announcement that he intends to run for a 
second term in office effectively marks the start of electioneering, even if no 
one is clear about when the ballot is to take place.

At a February 11 press conference – the first Bakiev had given in two years – 
he made his intentions plain. 

“I will give a direct response to a direct question. Yes, I will stand in the 
presidential election. The constitution gives me a right to stand for a second 
term and I intend to exercise this right,” he said. 

The president also made a public reference to the uncertainty that surrounds 
the correct date for the election. At the moment some politicians – mainly from 
the opposition – say the poll should properly be held this coming October, 
while others say the constitutional position is that it falls a year later. 

“As far as I know, the next presidential election should be held in 2010,” said 
Bakiev. “But what will the Constitutional Court say on this? As guarantor of 
the constitution, I will submit to the decision of the Constitutional Court.” 

The Kyrgyz constitution was amended by referendum in October 2007, with one key 
change to the wording on the presidential term in office, so that whereas 
before the head of state served four years and then continued until the end of 
the October of his fifth year, now the document states simply, “The president 
is elected for five years.” 

That left Bakiev’s position as the incumbent unclear. Since the 2003 
constitution was in force when he was elected, is he supposed to serve for four 
years and four months, counting from the July 2005 ballot to the first October 
of his fifth year, in other words in 2009? Or does the new five-year term apply 
to him retroactively? 

Opposition politicians are worried that the administration will apply the 
latter interpretation, meaning that no election is needed until 2010. They have 
acted to preempt such a move by raising the issue in public. One group, the 
Social Democrats, is drafting a formal request to the Constitutional Court to 
clarify the date. 

“He is legally obliged to run for election this year,” the party’s chairman 
Almazbek Atambaev told IWPR. “The presidential election was held under the old 
constitution… When one member of parliament said recently that the current 
constitution should be used as a basis, it was a mistake. We elected the 
president for a specific term, lasting until October 2009.” 

Arguments about the constitution and election dates are nothing new in 

Bakiev’s predecessor Askar Akaev served for two terms after his election in 
1991, but before he was ousted in a popular uprising in March 2005, many 
believed he was about to seek a third term. The Constitutional Court laid the 
foundations for this in a 1999 ruling that Akaev’s real first term was the one 
that began in 1995; the first one did not count because it started before 
Kyrgyzstan had passed its first post-independence constitution. 

Even as the debate around the poll date continues, the election race has 
started, to all intents and purposes. 

Many analysts saw the signs last month, when Bakiev carried out a radical 
shake-up of the cabinet and also of his own presidential office. Part of the 
reason was clearly to put together a stronger team to address the manifold 
consequences of the international financial crisis as it plays out in 
Kyrgyzstan. But the appointment, in particular, of former Bishkek mayor Daniyar 
Usenov as head of the presidential administration was seen as a move to get the 
right man in place to manage a future election campaign. (See Whirlwind Cabinet 
Changes in Kyrgyzstan, RCA No. 563, 23-Jan-09.) 

While it is opposition politicians who are insisting that Bakiev should not be 
allowed to stay on until 2010 – a year longer than they believe he is due – it 
could be argued that they, not the president, have most to lose from an 
election within the next year. 

Although the opposition formed the broadest anti-government coalition yet, the 
United People’s Movement, in December, many believe it is still not in shape to 
fight an election, particularly if the disparate parties need to identify and 
rally behind a single strong challenger to Bakiev. In any case, many of the 
leading politicians are otherwise occupied, fighting criminal charges they say 
are a deliberate attempt to sap the opposition of its strength. (See 
Kyrgyzstan: Political Confrontation Intensifies, RCA No. 562, 17-Jan-09.) 

“The opposition will have something of a chance in the presidential election 
only if it puts forward a single leader,” political analyst Marat Kazakpaev 
told the Bishkek Press Club in a recent interview. “If no consolidation takes 
place, the president will definitely have no serious rival.” 

To date, only Atambaev has signaled his readiness to stand against Bakiev. 

“A party that intends to win an election must prepare for it, and prepare its 
candidates. We have candidates, and as head of the party, I am ready to run for 
the presidency,” he told IWPR, adding, “However, circumstances will dictate 
whether we nominate one or several candidates from the opposition. We have yet 
to agree on that.” 

The opposition is also poorly resourced, whereas Bakiev – despite his 
government’s economic woes – has received a significant windfall in the shape 
of funding from Moscow. 

During a visit to Moscow in early February, Bakiev secured a 300 million US 
dollar loan to be used to support the government budget, plus a pledge of 1.7 
billion dollars in investment in the Kyrgyz energy industry. In addition, 
Moscow agreed to write off 180 million dollars of Kyrgyz debt in return for a 
48 per cent stake in a defence-industry factory, and offered additional 
assistance worth 150 million dollars. 

The price, according to many analysts, was a statement by the Kyrgyz leader 
that the United States military airbase near Bishkek was to close down, 
although Bakiev and the Russians strenuously denied any connection between the 
two announcements. (For a report on the deal, see Kyrgyzstan: How Imminent is 
US Base Closure?, RCA No. 565, 5-Feb-09.) 

“With help from Moscow, Bakiev has acquired economic and political backing, 
which relates to the presidential election and the stability of the current 
administration,” said political analyst Mars Sariev. 

The People’s Revolutionary Movement of Kyrgyzstan, an opposition group which is 
a part of the United People’s movement, issues a statement on February 16 
saying that the financial deal “must be seen as a sign that Russia will support 
Kurmanbek Bakiev during the forthcoming presidential election”. 

With such advantages at his disposal, the president is in a position to pick 
and choose when the best time to call an election would be. Even if he reserves 
the right to wait until 2010, he might want to call an early election before 
the economic situation gets even worse and prompts anti-government rallies, or 
before his opponents have time to organise. 

According to Azimbek Beknazarov, a leading opposition figure who belongs to the 
Revolutionary Movement of Kyrgyzstan, “By indicating his intention to run for a 
second term, Bakiev has thrown out a challenge to his opponents to get ready, 
and made it clear to others [possible candidates from his own circle] that they 
should keep a low profile. The president wants it to be unexpected, so that 
neither the opposition nor other political forces have time to prepare for the 

Murat Juraev, a Social Democratic member of parliament, believes the 
Constitutional Court will bow to any election date the administration chooses. 

“In Kyrgyzstan, everything depends upon the will of God – what the political 
situation is like, how the crisis affects people’s livelihoods, and what the 
weather is like,” he said. “All these factors influence people’s mood, so if 
people are in a negative mood, the Constitutional Court will take the 
appropriate decision and the election will be postponed for a year.” 

Bakiev has insisted he will abide by the court’s decision. “There will be no 
manipulation of the Kyrgyz constitution,” he said at the February 11 press 
conference. “I can guarantee that.” 

Anara Yusupova is a pseudonym used by a journalist based in Bishkek. 

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