Sadyr Japarov pledged to create “a dictatorship of law, where justice and prosperity prevail” as he was sworn in as Kyrgyzstan’s sixth president on January 28.
As Japarov formally assumes control over a country he has in effect been running since late October, in the wake of a revolt that toppled his predecessor, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, he will now focus on pushing through reforms to consolidate his authority further.
“We are facing the beginning of a new stage of history,” he said.
During his swearing-in ceremony, Japarov played up his nationalist-patriotic credentials, waving the national flag and joining the crowd in singing the national anthem.
Among the guests of honor were Jeenbekov, who now becomes the first Kyrgyz president to be overthrown without being forced to go into exile, the head of the security services and old Japarov ally, Kamchybek Tashiyev, and Talant Mamytov, who has been keeping the president’s seat warm in an interim capacity for the past few weeks.
Japarov, who had been serving a prison sentence on kidnapping charges at the time of the unrest of October 5, has his work cut out. He begins his time in power at the helm of an economy flattened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even once the epidemiological crisis has blown through, it is difficult to see what options Kyrgyzstan possesses to achieve the prosperity Japarov is promising.
Public sentiment appears largely behind Japarov for now, but even the inauguration was not untroubled by controversy. In the weeks ahead of the ceremony, it was announced that 10 million som ($118,000) were being earmarked for the event – a barely affordable expense for an unscheduled inauguration. On January 22, Japarov sought to defuse the irritation by saying that he would forego pomp and a motorcade.
Despite casting himself as a man of the people, Japarov has taken a liking to motorcades, which require temporarily blocking entire sections of the capital, Bishkek, to accommodate, much to the rage of motorists. Sure enough, despite Japarov’s pledges, the motorcade did take place all the same on inauguration day. And the 2,500 policemen deployed to provide protection likewise undermined claims that the new president is nearly universally beloved.
Japarov won the election with 79 percent of the vote, which would be very impressive, if but for the fact that only 39 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot.
The more consequential vote that took place on that day, however, was the one to approve returning Kyrgyzstan to a strong presidential system. The specific look of the new constitution is a work in progress nearing completion. Another plebiscite will be needed this year to confirm its standing. Although some will certainly object, their protests are unlikely to be heeded.
Ayzirek Imanaliyeva is a journalist based in Bishkek.