Sadyr Japarov’s rise from prisoner to president in Kyrgyzstan

By: Wes Culp

A new era of Kyrgyzstani politics has arrived. This is heralded by the inauguration of President Sadyr Japarov on January 28th following an election the OSCE declared to be dominated by Japarov through misuse of financial and administrative resources. While fundamental campaign freedoms in the election were “generally respected”, the presidential election was itself tied to a referendum on the structure of the Kyrgyzstani government which saw 81.3% of voters favor a switch to a presidential republic from Kyrgyzstan’s prior parliamentary government, according to the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission. Such a switch promises to make good on Japarov’s vague promise of a “dictatorship of law and justice” in the country, a phrase previously used by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Until October of 2020, Japarov was serving a ten-year sentence for taking hostages as part of protests against a foreign-owned mining project in northeastern Kyrgyzstan in 2013. Japarov’s time in jail was cut short when protests over unfair parliamentary elections in October led to protestors freeing Japarov from prison and the overthrow of former President Sooronbay Jeenbekov. Shortly after gaining his freedom, Japarov became acting president of Kyrgyzstan through the January 28th presidential election, which he won.

On February 12th, President Japarov announced that a referendum will be held on April 11th to approve a new constitution. While the text of this document has not yet been made public, constitutional convention chairman Bekbosun Borubashev has described some of the proposed changes. These include a reduction of the size of the unicameral Supreme Council, the elevation of a national Kurultai deliberative body, the weakening of the Supreme Council’s ability to impeach the president, and changes to the division of powers between executive and legislative bodies. Additional broad proposals, such as the combination of the posts of prime minister and head of government administration as well as the sanctioning of “traditional and spiritual” Kyrgyz values, lead independent observers to fear the new constitution would grant Japarov undue powers in his office as president.

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