MOSCOW (AP) — Scores of opposition supporters in Kyrgyzstan rallied Monday to challenge the results of a parliamentary election that was swept by parties loyal to the country's president.
Sunday's election came just over just over a year after a forceful change of government in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation that propelled Sadyr Zhaparov to the presidency.
With over 97% of precincts counted, three blocs supporting Zhaparov emerged as the top vote-getters with three other parties trailing behind. Several opposition parties contested the results, accusing authorities of vote-rigging.
About 100 of their supporters gathered outside the Central Election Commission's office, demanding a recount.
A joint observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said the elections were competitive, but they lacked meaningful voter engagement due to a stifled campaign, constitutional changes weakening parliament and extensive legislative changes to key aspects of the election. The observers also pointed at limitations on civil and political rights as well as diminished separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.
Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous landlocked nation of 6.5 million people that borders China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances. It hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s financial support.
Zhaparov was serving an 11 1/2-year sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute over a gold mine when he was freed by stone-hurling supporters who challenged the results of the October 2020 parliamentary election.
Last year’s unrest marked the third violent ouster of the country’s leader in 15 years. Like uprisings that toppled presidents in 2005 and 2010, the 2020 turmoil was driven by clan rivalries that shape the country’s politics.
After his election in January, Zhaparov pushed for a referendum that approved a new Constitution that substantially increased presidential powers at the expense of parliament. It reduced the size of the country’s parliament from 120 to 90 seats and gave the president the power to appoint judges and the heads of law enforcement agencies.
In Sunday’s vote, 54 seats were filled by party lists and the remaining 36 by single-ballot races. About 35% of voters turned out to cast ballots.
The Ata-Zhurt (Homeland Kyrgyzstan), Ishenim (Trust) and Yntymak (Accord) blocs received about 16%, 13% and 11% of the vote on party lists respectively, according to the Central Election Commission. All three blocs have been loyal to Zhaparov.
The Alliance and Butun Kyrgyzstan (United Kyrgyzstan) opposition parties won 8% and 7% of the vote respectively, and the more obscure Yiman Nuru (Beam of Conscience) got 6%. Several opposition parties missed the 5% threshold to make it into parliament. Their leaders accused the authorities of rigging the ballot using the automated vote counting system and demanded a manual recount.
A glitch late Sunday when the vote count showing the opposition parties poised to reach the threshold became frozen and then was replaced with different numbers indicating they missed it fueled suspicions. Election officials denied any manipulations, blaming the incident on a software bug.
Zhaparov quickly agreed to the demand to do the recount, saying in a Facebook statement late Sunday that all ballots should remain at precincts until it’s completed.
Tensions had risen in the country ahead of the vote, with Zhaparov accusing his political foes of plotting a mutiny and warning that those who try to stage post-election riots would face prosecution.