The picture for Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election is becoming ever clearer with new candidates either throwing their hat into the ring or being linked with plans to do so imminently.
The second addition to the roster, following former prime minister Temir Sariyev, is the leader of the Onuguu-Progress party, 43-year old Bakyt Torobayev, who told his supporters on February 10 that he wants to see Kyrgyzstan install a “dictatorship of law,” borrowing an old line from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Torobayev struck a populist and workmanlike tone in his declaration of intent to run in October’s vote.
“People ask me what form of system I favor — presidential or parliamentary. If I am honest, we have really tired people with this business. I am for that form of government that will create jobs, where young people won’t need to go abroad for work, where every citizen will feel protected, both legally and socially. I would call this form of government a dictatorship of law,” Torobayev was cited as saying by 24.kg news agency.
Onuguu-Progress is a recent fixture on the Kyrgyz political scene, having been formed in May 2013 as a Torobayev-led, four-deputy splinter group of the business-focused Respublika party faction in parliament. Torobayev was deputy speaker of parliament at the time.
Onuguu-Progress, and Torobayev accordingly, have cast themselves as “centrist” and “neo-conservative,” agitating for the protection of property rights, advancing the values of a market economy and promoting political competition. The party has explicitly renounced any appeals to the street-based politics that has prevailed in Kyrgyzstan for much of the past two decades.
“The leadership of Onuguu-Progress rejects revolutionary methods for solving political problems, supports stable rules of the game on the social and economic front, adheres to patriotic values and recognizes the role of tradition in the lives of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan,” the party charter reads.
This message appears tailor-made to sit on two stools — on one hand appealing to the urban entrepreneurial class and also to the burgeoning traditionalist electorate.
Significantly, the party is said to draw its support primarily from the south — of the four original founder MPs, three are from the Jalal-Abad region, including Torobayev, and one is from the Osh region. At the 2015 elections, Onuguu-Progress won around 9 percent of the vote, which translated into 13 seats — an impressive achievement for such a new party.
It wouldn’t be Kyrgyz politics without some idle tittle-tattle, but the youthful Torobayev appears remarkably to have managed to avoid any charges of corrupt intent. But one sliver of speculative recent scuttlebut described him as having recently met “political groups close to influential Kremlin figures.”
“Maybe it was in those minutes that [Torobayev] decided to run for president? By all appearances, the Russians slapped his shoulder and indicated that they would lend him financial support,” Kyrgyz-language newspaper Aziya News mused in a piece on January 26.
Be that as it may, Torobayev is a serious and credible contender, as is his only other current rival, Sariyev, so the election looks like it will nothing if not interesting.