According to unofficial results, former Prime Minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov, backed by incumbent President Almazbek Atambaev, appears set for a surprise first-round victory in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election.
The Kyrgyz Central Election Commission said that Jeenbekov had secured 54 percent of the vote with more than 900,000 votes, while his main opponent Omurbek Babanov, a former oil trader who is reportedly one of the country's richest men, received 33 percent of the vote with roughly 600,000 votes. Voter turnout in the country was 55 percent.
Jeenbekov's Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) and Babanov's Respublika-Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) party have been the largest and second-largest factions in Kyrgyz parliament since the 2015 elections.
Under the Kyrgyz Constitution, a president can only serve one six-year term, meaning incumbent Atambayev is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term. Atambayev canceled a trip to Russia earlier this week, citing concerns about possible unrest.
Daily Sabah spoke to Alisher Khamidov, a writer based in Bishkek, regarding the results of the presidential election.
Khamidov offered three factors in play regarding Jeenbekov's victory: "First, Atambayev and the pro-president SDPK, which now controls parliament, supported Jeenbekov and they threw the full weight of their political influence into ensuring Jeenbekov's victory - including the utilization of the state bureaucracy, various formal and administrative tools and pressure on citizens. Before the vote, Atambayev said that he did not want local oligarchs - most likely in reference to Jeenbekov's main contender Omurbek Babanov - to win the election. Secondly, Jeenbekov comes from the south, and he represents one of the most powerful patronage networks in the south. After Atambayev and the SDPK chose him as their candidate, many influential actors and community leaders from the south hopped on the bandwagon for Jeenbekov. Third of all, the Kremlin factor was also at play. Although the Kremlin did not get directly involved in the Kyrgyz presidential race, they offered indirect support for the SDPK candidate by meeting with Atambayev ahead of the vote, and informally offering their blessings to his choice for successor."
Khamidov spoke about the possible scenarios regarding the outcome of the presidential election: "The first one is positive. Jeenbekov won the highly-contested race and the other candidates, including Babanov, will begrudgingly accept the result. The second scenario is more worrisome. Refusing to accept the results, Babanov could attempt to mobilize his supporters and try to unite various political opposition groups. The political standoff would lead to mass protests."
Regarding the effects of the presidential election on Kyrgyz foreign relations, Khamidov reiterated the strength of Kyrgyz-Russian relations. "On foreign policy, particularly with regard to Russia, there will be strong continuity with Atambayev's policy. Relations with Moscow will be a top priority for Jeenbekov, as he has already said so on numerous occasions. Jeenbekov's immediate foreign policy task would be to mend the recently soured relations with Kazakhstan, which took a downturn over the past couple weeks because of Atambayev's inflammatory statement in which he criticized the Kazakh leadership for meddling in Kyrgyz politics," he said.
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