Lock, stock and two smoking barrels

The victory in the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan is guaranteed through money, outside factors and administrative resource. Such conclusion can be made due to survey of experts, directly involved in the electoral process. And more importantly it comes in that exact order, from most to least influential component of success.

Recent visits of Kyrgyzstan’s president Atambaev to Moscow and of the chairman of state duma of the Federal assembly of RF Volodin to Bishkek, finally determined the outcome of the upcoming fall elections in the republic, however it is still impossible to name the future president.

At the same time, observers noted that the visit of the Kyrgyz president in Moscow, despite the fact that he will soon leave his position was of the highest caliber: protocol events were notably pompous and solemn, and Putin has variously showed a high degree of sympathy to his Kyrgyz colleague, and even personally guided him to chambers of Kremlin, that are inaccessible to most of its inhabitants.

The fact that on June 20th minister of finances of RF Siluanov and miniter of finances of Kyrgyzstan Kasymaliev signed a protocol to agreement on regulating Kyrgyzstan’s debt to Russia on loans given earlier, can also be counted in favor of Atambaev. Protocol guarantees writing off of a $240 mil. debt. Earlier, in the first half of 2016, Russian wrote of Kyrgyzstan’s debt in the amount of $30 mil. and by the end of June of 2106, overall gross debt of the Republic to RF was 270 mil. dollars. Overall, in the past 11 years Russia wrote off 703.2 mil. dollars to Kyrgyzstan in foreign debt.

Survey of experts, directly involved in the process of upcoming elections in Kyrgyzstan, showed the absence at the moment of a clear favorite, however very clearly shows that results of the elections will be determined by the amount of invested funds, outside factors and administrative resource; and in this exact order.

In the february article (Kyrgyzstan. At the start of the presidential race), dedicated to upcoming elections in Kyrgyzstan, I wrote that this time opportunity to utilize administrative resource will be limited. It is not clear that this is understood by the Bishkek regime, which is counting on it to elect S. Jeenbekov.

However, today the situation has gotten more difficult: aside from the fact that positions of SDPK Social-democratic party) is to put it mildly isn’t optimistic, a serious factor of rapture within the party is added. It is not surprising that hosting of a conference and nomination of the candidate from the social-democratic party has extended for a long time. Apparently, the conference will take place on July 15th and the acting prime minister will be officially nominated as a single candidate from the ruling party, however, pushing this issue will require significant material spending in favor of Atambaev’s colleagues; this is because many of them are not happy with Jeenbekov’s nomination.

However, hosting a conference and confirming on it a candidate favorable to Atambaev is far from the main issue. A more difficult issue is solving a problem with a really low rating of the candidate form the ruling party. Moreover, Omurbek Tekebaev will be allowed to run (deputy of Jogorku Kenesh of 4 convocations, leader of Ata Meken party and of the “For reforms!” movement, which will further weaken Jeenbekov’s chances.

Political experts currently based in Bishkek (from one Russian company, controlled by one madam who is a deputy governor of one of Russian oblasts, not to close to Moscow) say that 6% of real rating is very little and that “something should be done about it”. What exactly should be done they honestly, don’t know, but being experienced people who studied current situation, agree with the opinion that use of administrative resources this time will be quite limited. Falsifying results of elections will be impossible, and the effort of falsification itself may be suicidal for current regime.

At the same time it is evident that Kyrgyzstan will not be able to withstand a third revolution – in case of another violent power shift it may fall apart into separate regions, that do not have a centralized management and are controlled by regional groups. Understanding this, Bishkek counts on achieving second round victory for Jeenbekov. It is known that recently a date was changed from November 19 to October 15th for elections, and this change is related to what has become clear: it won’t be possible to achieve desired results in the first round.

The most widespread tool in the upcoming elections, likely will be buying off electoral votes. Atambaev’s team will need considerable funds for this. But not only; Atambaev’s team is counting on being able to essentially fore Bakyt Torobaev to call on his supporters to vote in favor of the “southern candidate” – Jeenbekov, during preparations for the second round.

In the preelection solitaire, Torobaev was the most interesting and promising figure, and could real become a joker in the election cards deck. However a cruel joke was played on him by his own team, that consisted of people who were so nationalistic that they turned off foreign interested actors (more on the foreign factor below) from viewing Torobaev as a main candidate.

Plus, a momentum for start of his election campaign was lost – this candidate has enough strong suits as well as personal finances, that allow to speak of his further political career, however his presidential campaign demanded more time investment and should have been the most expensive one. In other words, in the remaining time before the elections it is almost impossible to do things that should’ve been started in march of this year.

Undeniable is the fact, that not a single expert, even the ones inside the country, can preidict with a complete accuracy the course of events, including the future nature of cooperation of Jeenbekov and torobaev’s teams. However, all those surveyed point to the fact that it is Torobaev who takes a tough stance on current administration. In order to negotiate with him in preparation for second round of elections, the team of the acting president will need to make such an offer, which Torobaev will not be able to refuse, without losing his face. Also undeniable is the fact that it will be impossible to force him into cooperation.

Somewhat analogous are prospects of another candidate – Temir Sariev. He could’ve become an acceptable compromise figure for foreign players. However, he wasn’t able to attract necessary amount of funds, and his support coming from Tashiev, Keldibekov and Jekshenkulov, will not be a sufficient for his win in the south.

Disparity of personal ambitions with real resources now doesn’t play in his favor. All experts without exception say that Sariev does have a chance of winning the election, but his resources wont be enough, which will make him negotiable with the team of the acting president, and under no circumstances will allow for ultimate escalating. Moreover, they point to the fact that it will be easy to discredit  Sariev, during presidential campaign – he will be faulted for absence of Kyrgyzstan’s preparation to enter EAEU.

Before speaking of Omurbek Babanov’s prospects, a few words have to be said of the outside factor. This is  because Babanov will be the most active and effective in exploiting it.

Speaking of outside factors, we first of all, assume the influence of Russia, USA, European Union, China and Kazakhstan. EU’s influence can be ignored, since this factor won’t have any real influence on the outcome of upcoming elections. China’s factor is also understandable – for the most part, China will be satisfied with any of known candidates, since its economic interests in Kyrgyzstan are not much dependent on who will be the president. Moreover, the Chinese have found personal approach to all more or less suitable candidates a long time ago.

Much more complicated is situation with Russia’s influence, which clearly cares about who will assume presidential office in Kyrgyzstan. Salafization and Wahhabization of Kyrgyzstan, to say the least, doesn’t make Moscow happy, and Kremlin would like to see as a president, someone who shares that threat. In this aspect Jeenbekov’s and Torobekov’s candidacies cause some concern.

A president, controlling intelligence enforcement agencies, intelligence and prosecutor’s office, will continue remaining a key link in the system of government administration of Kyrgyzstan. Thus, possibly, for Moscow secretary of Security agency Jumakadyrov or another enforcer – current head of GKNB would be more convenient.

Noteworthy is the fact that recently, Atambaev signed a law “About security committee of Kyrgyz Republic” accepted by Jogorku Kenesh of KR on May 25th 2017, which considerably widened powers of Security comittee. Thus, its head becomes quite a powerful figure in Kyrgyz power hierarchy.

Also possessing presidential ambitions is speaker of the parliament Tursunbekov, with who Voldoin recently met, and who is an easy to understand figure for Kremlin.

However, officials in Moscow realize that to push their candidate who doesn’t have any real support in society, now is almost impossible: it is very expensive and requires almost complete responsibility for further development of domestic situation in Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, Moscow, doesn’t have such an authoritative figure who would take such a responsibility. Thus, today, whatever people may say and whatever gossip they might spread, there is no such thing as “Kremlin candidacy”. In this regard, there is no misleading in numerous official statements saying that Kremlin will not interfere in the election process of the new president.

The thing is that there are certain influence groups in Moscow, that within the framework of their private ambitions try to “play politics”. The most indicative example is efforts of promoting of Talbek Masadykov. It is some sort of laughable “half-commercial” trend, the gist of which is to find some fatcat ready to invest in Kyrgyz domestic policy, while a serious group of people in general shoulder strap will help spend the fatcat’s money.

At the same time, Masadykov may end up a truly promising politician and simply a decent human being, but “there are no miracles” and efforts to mold a president out of him look simply naïve from the outside.

Speaking of which, another serious group in coronel shoulder straps acts more effectively in the interests of former prime-minister of the country Babanov, who was quite skillfully and subtly introduced to Russian media sphere and will be promoted through his own finances, as the election date approaches.

At the same time, it is worth noting that in Kyrgyz society there is a demand for fresh faces and the tiredness from old politicians. Still, it is quite problematic to “mold” a new president in just half a year.

By the way, it is not true to say that Babanov is a desireable candidate for Kremlin. Two foreign players have vested interest in his victory, even though they don’t publicize it – USA and Kazakhstan. At the same time, due to internal struggle in US and restructuring in the state department, it is a stretch to say that American interfering into Kyrgyz presidential elections will be deciding factor. But, for Kazakhstan, victory of Babanov is more than desirable.

Relations of two neighboring countries cannot be called serene – despite a seeming closeness, Kyrgyz and Kazakhs are not on the same wavelength. This is why it is undesirable for Kazakhstan that Torobaev or Jeenbekov become president, while Babnov is a more optimal candidate. Babanov is viewed in the same light by Kazakhstani business, whose positions in the neighboring country since 2010, have shrunk.

For now, if choosing between Jeenbekov and Babanov, candidacy of current prime-minister is more desirable for Kremlin, even though, his connections in the Persian gulf are a little alarming. However, chances of Babanov, who has necessary financial resources, look more preferable for now. Moreover, he is quite effective at managing his own finances, and as was said before, already acquired allies in Moscow, able to lobby his interests in Kremlin, as well as conducting quality work in Russian media.

As a result, it can be forecasted that his rating will grow, and he will become “an acceptable option” for Moscow, even though in case of his victory, Kyrgyzstan’s foreign policy will become more pro-western.

At the moment, also open is the issue relations between Babanov and Atambaev. Surveyed experts say that there is no necessary level of trust between them, and unlike other candidates, Babanov is aimed at victory and won’t be open to compromise in favor of Atambaev. However, they might be able to avoid confrontation. At least one expert said that Babanov was a guest from groom’s side at the wedding of current president’s daughter. So their antagonism is not so clear in nature.

It isn’t necessary to talk at length about other candidates. This time electoral deposit will be increased to 1 million som, and even though there may be multiple nominees, not many will want to register as official candidates. Thus, in my opinion, main intrigue of upcoming elections will be about Babanov.

About the author: Andrey Medvedev – Russian political expert executive director ANO CPT Politkontakt 

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