At the start of August, the leaders of three political parties in Kyrgyzstan announced they were joining forces and putting forward a single candidate for the October 15 presidential election.
Bakyt Torobayev of the Onuguu-Progress party, Adakhan Madumarov of Butun Kyrgyzstan, and Kamchibek Tashiyev and Akhmatbek Keldibekov, joint leaders of Ata-Jurt, are all southerners, which would have made whoever received their collective support a formidable player in the vote.
But just one month later, their coalition grouping, which they called Kaira Zharaluu, Kyrgyz for Revival, has not only failed to agree on a single candidate — they have decided to run independently.
In the biggest shock move of all, Tashiyev, who spent time in prison after being found guilty in 2013 of attempting to seize power following a rowdy protest which culminated in him clambering over a gate, this week said he is backing the man nominated by the ruling Social Democratic Party, Sooronbai Jeenebekov, who stood down as prime minister last month ahead of beginning his campaign in earnest. Tashiyev said his unexpected decision was motivated by his desire to preserve peace and unity in Kyrgyzstan — neither of which have ever particularly been known to be priorities for the cauliflower-eared political bruiser.
“For six years we’ve been in opposition, and in the interests of avoiding the breakup of the country, in the interests of stability and tranquillity, these politicians [Tashiyev and Jeenbekov] are joining forces,” Tashiyev’s office said in a statement.
Accordingly, Tashiyev announced his intention to withdraw his hat from the electoral ring, although he has yet to actually do so. The suspicion on the streets is that some kind of secret deal has been struck to ensure the endorsement, although it is unclear what the terms might be.
Torobayev, who was meant to be the southern parties’ unified candidate, harrumphed that he will no longer team up with any fellow politicians after all his would-be allies decided to go their own way.
“I threw all my efforts into political consolidation and the creation of a new political union, but unfortunately the personal ambitions of my partners took the upper hand,” he said.
It is not even to be excluded that Torobayev, by far the slickest and most forward-thinking politician among the southern group, could be kicked off the candidate list altogether. Two young residents of capital, Bishkek, have hinted they may file a formal complaint after Torobayev’s campaign used a picture of them in his campaign material without their permission, which election officials have said is an offense potentially punishable by de-registration.
The already-faltering Kaira Zharaluu front drew considerable attention, and not just because it pooled the resources of so many well-known faces of the south. It got egg all over its face after it promised a free iPhone 7 to whoever came up with the best name and logotype for their political force.
With exasperating predictability, it emerged that the dominant feature in the winning design — an eagle in flight — was lifted directly from the stock photography website Shutterstock. Despite the clear plagiarism, the winner was nonetheless awarded his iPhone 7.
It is a sadly farcical prelude to what should by rights be a historic presidential election in Kyrgyzstan. The incumbent, President Almazbek Atambayev, is required by constitution to step aside at the end of his single seven-year term, so this will mark the country’s first peaceful transition of power from one elected leader to another.
With the southern crew having gone to the toilet with their trousers on, politically speaking, the only real contenders remaining are Jeenebekov, who will despite his flagrant lack of charisma enjoy the support of the ruling establishment, and Omurbek Babanov, a wealthy and youthful businessman with a proven track record as a canny operator. Bar any more shock developments, everybody else is an also-ran.