A former prime minister in Kyrgyzstan has declared he plans to run for president in this year’s election, kicking off what could shape up to be an unpredictable race in Central Asia's most vibrant political arena.
Temir Sariyev said on January 4 that he will run on a platform of promoting economic development and upholding rule of law.
The 53-year old was nominated to run by his Ak-Shumkar party. He was part of the interim government that was installed after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in a popular revolt in April 2010. In 2011, he was appointed Economy Minister and then became prime minister in 2015.
Sariyev was forced to resign as prime minister in April 2016 amid allegations of corruption to do with a multimillion dollar road construction contract. He admitted no culpability at the time but said government infighting and unfounded accusations of malfeasance had made his position untenable.
President Almazbek Atambayev is required by constitution to step aside when he completes his first term in October. That has created an unusual air of uncertainty for a region where presidents typically decline to relinquish power.
Sariyev is the first figure of any import to signal his intent to fill the position and has been touted by pundits as a likely prospect. He stressed at this candidacy announcement, however, that he wished not to be seen as an automatic successor.
“There will be no successor. The people will elect the president of Kyrgyzstan. That is not why we fought and risked our lives in 2010,” Sariyev said.
On more specific policy areas, Sariyev said he remains a supporter of Kyrgyzstan’s decision to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) trading bloc in 2015. Contrary to hopes and expectations, trading among EEU members — which also include Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan — has been performing poorly. Current Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov revleaed last week that the volume of trade between Kyrgyzstan and other bloc members had fallen by 16.7 percent, to $1.7 billion, in the first 11 months of 2016, compared with the year before. Trade with China, meanwhile, is growing fast.
Sariyev was prime minister until several months ahead of accession into the EEU, linking him indelibly with the project. In an exercise of damage limitation, he downplayed the sense of creeping disappointment.
“Many people criticize us and say that we should not have done it, that the problems we have in getting our goods across the border have gone nowhere, and so on. But if we had not joined the Eurasian Union, then the problems on the border would not be less, but much greater. Yes, there are some obstacles, but we now have a systematic mechanism for reaching agreements, and all these issues will gradually be settled. Moreover, we entered the EEU on better terms than other members,” he said.
Among the positives of the EEU, Sariyev listed the simplified regulations regime for Kyrgyz labor migrants moving to Russia and the growth of dairy and textile exports.
Sariyev’s warmth for the EEU will win him approval from Russia, upon whose support any prospective presidential candidate will rely.
His level-headed if somewhat distant technocratic bearing and business background, meanwhile, will be viewed with cautious optimism by the foreign investor community. Still, like anybody who has been at the top of Kyrgyz politics in recent years, Sariyev has had his share of run-in with Canada-based Centerra, which is developing the nation’s economically important Kumtor goldmine. While head of the government, Sariyev grumbled over what he deemed Centerra’s unfair conduct toward Kyrgyzstan, which owns a large stake in the Toronto-listed company, and pushed for greater efforts to maintain ecological standards at the Kumtor mine.
Now Sariyev has in effect fired the starting pistol on the presidential race, other candidacies will surely follow before too long.
One name speculatively floated around recently is that of Myktybek Abdyldayev, a member of parliament with the Bir Bol party, which is part of the ruling coalition. If he does indeed run, Abdyldayev is expected to draw some support from the business community and, like his party, should be able to count on backing from urban voters. His varied political career, however, means he may be able to count on support from a broad spectrum of influential groupings.
Abdyldayev is also a veteran on the Kyrgyz political and government scene. He served as general prosecutor from 2002 to 2005. After the 2005 revolution, he was appointed acting interior minister and then the next year became chief of staff under the Bakiyev administration, a position he filled until departing acrimoniously in 2007.
In an interview in April 2007, Abdyldayev complained of how Bakiyev’s leadership was paralyzing the country and he warned of the worsening political tensions of the time.
“If this confrontation continues to intensify, then with every turn of the screw, President Bakiyev’s position will be weakened and he will lead the country into chaos,” Abdyldayev told Obshestvenny Reiting newspaper.
In October 2010, Abdyldayev was elected to parliament with the nationalist and opposition Ata-Jurt party, which was packed with former Bakiyev apparatchiks and had its primary base of support in the south of the country. From 2012 to 2014, Abdyldayev, who is a northerner from the Chui region, led the party’s faction in parliament.
Abdyldayev’s new party, Bir Bol, has been characterized as a “patchwork party formed by veteran officials from earlier presidential administrations” — which describes Abdyldayev to a T. Pursuing a line essentially faithful to the government, Bir Bol ran a reasonably low-key campaign in the October 2015 elections and earned 12 berths in the 120-seat parliament as a result.