Kyrgyzstan: Losing Presidential Candidate Ditches Party Leadership
The main losing candidate in the recent presidential election in Kyrgyzstan has relinquished leadership of his political party in the wake of a criminal investigation being opened against him.
Omurbek Babanov said in a statement on November that he will no longer head the Respublika/Ata-Jurt group, which constitutes the largest force in parliament opposing the government.
As Babanov is currently outside the country — presumed to be in Russia — the resignation was announced by his associate, Talant Mamytov. The explanation for the decision was not explicitly linked to the criminal investigation, however, but explained by Babanov as a desire to see Respublika/Ata-Jurt pursue more intensive legislative efforts in parliament.
Babanov was the only viable rival to the ultimate winner of the October 15 presidential election, ruling party candidate Soronbai Jeenbekov. In the end, however, Babanov’s well-funded and high-visibility campaign failed to force a runoff vote, as Jeenebekov managed to garner almost 55 percent of the vote, well over the 50 percent threshold needed. Babanov got around 34 percent of the ballots cast.
Defying the expectations of some political observers, Babanov declined to confront the authorities directly over the outcome of an election that independent monitors said was marred by irregularities and the use of government resources to aid Jeenbekov’s chances. Instead, the multimillionaire businessmen quietly conceded his defeat, making it all the more surprising when prosecutors revealed in early November that they were investigating Babanov for purportedly fomenting ethnic tension during a campaign stump speech in a largely Uzbek community in the southern city of Osh.
With 28 deputies in the 120-seat Jogorku Kenesh, Respublika/Ata-Jurt constitutes the second largest faction in the legislature following the ruling Social Democratic Party, or SDPK, which nominated Jeenebekov as a presidential candidate. Babanov created the Respublika party in 2010 as a generally pro-business movement. In 2014, that party merged with Ata-Jurt, a nationalist force whose popularity lay mostly in the rural south, and Babanov formed an improbable alliance with party co-leader Kamchibek Tashiyev.
Babanov has suggested handing leadership of the party to a former foreign minister, Ruslan Kazakbayev.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.