The Presidential elections held on the 10th of January have legitimized Sadyr Japarov as the new president of Kyrgyzstan after a tangled political transition started in October 2020 with popular protests against the results of parliamentarian elections. Even if the turnout was one of the lowest in the history of independent Kyrgyzstan, the new head of state was able to obtain nearly 80% of votes.
The populist and nationalist president Japarov should deal with several economic and social challenges that currently affect this Central Asian republic, mainly the health and economic effects of the global pandemic, even if he declares that fight against deeply rooted corruption in Kyrgyzstan will be among his priorities as president [Japarov vows to fight corruption, bring transparency to government, Central Asia News, January 21, 2021].
Moreover, together with Presidential polls, Kyrgyz people voted in a referendum to change the form of government from a parliamentarian to a presidential system, thus reversing the decision adopted with a constitutional reform in 2010 (after the overturning of the president Bakiev who took power in 2005 following the so-called “Tulip Revolution”) to decentralise executive power, reducing presidential powers in favour of the prime minister and the government [J. Engvall, The Fall of Kyrgyzstan’s Parliamentary Experiment and the Rise of Sadyr Japarov, Central Asia and Caucasus Analyst, January 21, 2021].
The new political leadership is working on a new draft Constitution and a second referendum will be held in the coming months to decide on these amendments. However, there is the concrete risk that Kyrgyzstan could gradually move to a renovated presidential authoritarianism, so halting the timid steps to a democratic progress and the attempts of power sharing.
Considering Kyrgyzstan’s geopolitical weakness, Japarov should necessarily preserve good relations with two influent neighbours, Russia and China. In spite of an initial disappointment regarding the unexpected political transition, the Russian President Putin was among the first leaders to congratulate Japarov on his victory, underlining the relevance of a bilateral cooperation to maintain security and stability as well as to achieve common interests in the region.
Japarov is likely to follow a pro-Russian approach, like the former Kyrgyz presidents, due to the deep strategic linkage with Moscow, as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and security partner within the Collective Security Treaty Organization. For China, the testing ground for the new president will be the effective protection of Chinese businessman and investments in the country, that appear severely threatened by a growing wave of nationalism and Sinophobia.
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PhD holder in Geopolitics at University of Trieste and non-resident fellow research at Center for Energy Governance and Security (EGS South Korea).