Four out of the six parties elected to Kyrgyzstan’s 120-seat parliament in the October 4 vote have agreed to form a broad ruling coalition. The size of the majority is likely to be enough to avoid a repeat of the frequent coalition collapses that blighted the last parliament.
Formation of the coalition on October 29 was spearheaded by election winner Social Democratic Party (SPDK), which won 38 seats, in part because of the tacit support of its historic leader, President Almazbek Atambayev. SDPK fell far short of an outright majority, however, so it has had to join forces with the Kyrgyzstan party (18 seats), Onuguu-Progress (13) and Ata-Meken (11).
Barring major schism, that block of 80 deputies could provide a strong mandate to pass much-needed legislation.
Respublika-Ata Jurt, headed by a wealthy businessman and former prime minister, Omurbek Babanov, and Bir Bol, whose parliamentary faction will be led by southerner Altynbek Suleimanov, will sit in opposition.
Incumbent Prime Minister Temir Sariyev, who became the country’s fifth head of government in five years in late April and who is not affiliated to any of the parties in parliament, is to continue in his role.
The coalition is larger than any in the last term of parliament. No single party can collapse the government by unilaterally exiting the coalition, which was a regular threat last time round.
The most likely dissident party will be Ata-Meken. Atambayev in summer accused Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev of having “one foot in government, one in opposition” — a reference to the party’s recurrent criticism of a government of which it ostensibly formed a part.
All other parties look likely to fall in line. And how those parties came into existence are highly revealing about how politics in Kyrgyzstan operates.
The Kyrgyzstan party has been viewed by many as a stalking horse for SDPK and was reported by local media to be the brainchild of Atambayev’s former driver-turned grey cardinal Ikramzhon Ilmiyanov.
The party’s core leadership grew out of the Yntymak sub-faction that splintered from Babanov’s Respublika party, which had at the time not yet merged with southern-based Ata-Jurt.
That defection came in 2012, amid mounting pressure on then-Prime Minister Minister Babanov.
Among the scandals bubbling away at the time was a probe by the anti-corruption service into the business interests of then Babanov ally Sharshenbek Abdykerimov. Although Abdykerimov, a vodka oligarch, will not be taking a seat in the legislature this time round, he sits on Kyrgyzstan's political council and is viewed as a key financial backer of the party that will be led in parliament by Kanat Isaev.
When Abdykerimov abandoned Babanov’s Respublika, the corruption stories instantly vanished from the pages of the country’s tabloids. Meanwhile, the head of the anti-corruption service at the time, Bekten Sydygaliev, went on to join Kyrgyzstan party’s political council.
Onuguu-Progress, another party formed on the basis of a post-Respublika splinter faction are also believed to be broadly loyal to Atambayev and the SDPK.
Leader Bakyt Torobaev, who targeted farmers as his party’s major constituency during Onuguu’s election campaign, struck a conciliatory tone at the new parliament’s opening on October 28.
“Each party has its own program, but we must all work for the good of the country. Hopefully, we will find mutual understanding and reach consensus on many issues,” he said.
Where this leaves Respublika-Ata Jurt’s two political heavyweight leaders is anyone’s guess.
Babanov and co-leader Kamchibek Tashiyev, a firebrand nationalist excluded from the list of candidates for allegedly beating up a rival from Onuguu-Progress, demonstrated they still command considerable support among the electorate by amassing 28 seats and coming second with a fifth of the vote.
But neither have many friends inside the legislature and they must now focus on trying to keep their amalgamated party together. That is a harder feat in opposition than in government, as the pair know too well.
They may also both have one eye on the country’s only real seat of power — the presidency — when that office becomes available following Atambayev’s departure in 2017.
This story has been updated to reflect Sariyev's confirmation in the post of prime minister.