Kyrgyzstan democratic experiment is in trouble, its citizens could yet salvage it.
A dramatic set of events in the central Asian country Kyrgyzstan culminated in the contested parliamentary elections being annulled following violent protests.
Hundreds have been injured as demonstrators broke into the parliament building late last night clashing with police, taking over government institutions and seeking new elections.
So what happened?
Often described as Central Asia’s only democracy, the country went to the polls on October 4, which were held amidst heightened political tensions and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
Going into the election the party with the most seats in parliament, the Social Democratic Party (SDPK) was not running.
The SDPK has cultivated the former president Almazbek Atambayev and current sitting president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
Tensions between the two men have resulted in the current political showdown.
Internal rivalry between the anti-Atambayev and pro-Jeenbekov camps threatened to split the party. Depleted by infighting, the SDPK decided to not run for elections for the first time in 13 years.
A new party led by Atambayev's son was started named the Social Democrats (SDK).
When the election results were announced on Sunday, however, three of the four parties to cross the threshold are seen as close to the sitting president Jeenbekov.
That led the opposition parties to cry foul. But to understand the current tussle, the story goes back several years.
Kyrgyzstan’s two revolutions, now its third?
The country has come a long way since the 2005 Tulip revolution. The then longtime president President Askar Akayev who had ruled the country since 1990 when the Soviet Union fell, was overthrown after disputed parliamentary elections.
Akayev and his family were widely mired in corruption and ultimately fled to Russia after widespread protests and violence made his position no longer tenable.
It was widely hoped that the new president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, would help to reform the country and tackle widespread corruption and nepotism.
Bakiyev’s rule however, was marked by political violence, riots in prisons and rallies against corruption. He was later overthrown in what became known as the Melon Revolution which brought Almazbek Atambayev to power.
Atambayev's rule lasted until 2017, giving way to the incumbent Sooronbay Jeenbekov, who is still in power but faces calls to stand down.
The power tussle between Atambayev, who became prime minister after stepping down as president in 2017 and Jeenbekov is at the heart of the current tensions.
Atambayev was arrested in 2019 on corruption charges that his supporters argue were trumped up and last night they sprung the former prime minister from jail alongside other important political figures.
What next for Kyrgyzstan?
Well, the path ahead is not going to be easy, especially since the country has struggled in ensuring peaceful transitions of power since 2005.
One analyst warned outside observers about framing the current protests in geopolitical terms.
“What’s happening in Kyrgyzstan is not about [the] Kremlin, Beijing or DC [Washington DC]. It’s about the people of Kyrgyzstan; people frustrated, disenchanted but seemingly not having lost all hope.”
The ensuing power vacuum in the country and with the parliamentary elections tossed out of the window protests between competing factions could turn violent.
Tensions between the country's ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations could also spill over as it did in 2010. That bout of violence left more than 400 people dead and hundreds of thousands internally displaced.
Kyrgyzstan's tentative democratic experiment is being tested like never before a transitional government and a clear timetable towards new parliamentary elections will be crucial in ensuring that the country doesn’t slide deeper into violence.