Sun, 25 Oct 2020

Kyrgyzstan: Election battle gets vicious for real

21 Sep 2020, 22:49 GMT+10

A huge brawl broke out over the weekend between supporters of two parties expected to grab large swathes of the vote in upcoming parliamentary elections.

According to media reports, around 12 people had to be hospitalized following the September 20 skirmish in the Aravan district of the southern Osh region.

Early accounts indicate that fighting began when Ilkhom Mannanov, a candidate with the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, began to insult a rival politician during a speech to supporters.

"The clash lasted about 10-15 minutes, but now the situation is calm," Zhenish Ashirbayev, press secretary for the Osh regional police department, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service, Radio Azattyk.

A lot of chaos unfolded over that timeframe. Five cars were smashed. One person is understood to be in a serious condition. At least 10 people involved in the fighting have been detained and given statements. The dozen now in hospital will be questioned when they are discharged, police have said.

Saktan Ismailov was fired as commander of the Aravan police precinct for failing to properly maintain public order, while a number of officers were given reprimands.

The attackers of the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan rally came from self-declared supporters of Birimdik. That party acknowledges that its supporters were involved in the fighting but alluded to some kind of unspecified mischief-making as being at the root of the unrest.

"We hope that law enforcement agencies will investigate and identify the provocateurs as soon as possible," party representatives said on September 20.

On this point, at least, both parties agree. Mekenim Kyrgyzstan has said it too believes that provocateurs were responsible for the unrest.

"We hope that this case will be dealt with objectively and impartially," the party said in its statement.

There are 16 parties running for 120 available seats in the October 4 vote, and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan and Birimdik are deemed frontrunners by virtue of their links to important powerbrokers.

Birimdik looks primed to take up a role as party of government, taking over from the likely soon-to-be-defunct Social Democratic Party of imprisoned former President Almazbek Atambayev. The party includes President Sooronbai Jeenbekov's younger brother, Asylbek, and numerous former top security service insiders and MPs on its electoral list.

Mekenim Kyrgyzstan is a more intriguing player. It is known as "the party of the Matraimovs," a political family clan presided over by shadowy former deputy customs chief Rayimbek Matraimov, who is deemed by some to eclipse even Jeenbekov for heft and influence.

Both Matraimov and Jeenbekov are southerners and, accordingly, draw the bulk of their political capital from their native regions. Their affiliated parties should not, in principle, be especially vicious rivals, since their interests lie in essentially the same outcome: a perpetuation of the deeply corrupt cronyism that currently reigns supreme in Kyrgyzstan.

But the drama that unfolded between Jeenbekov and his mentor and one-time ally, Atambayev, has lain bare the dangers of assuming loyalty lasts in perpetuity. Matraimov has ridden out multiple journalistic investigations appearing to document his links to a vast smuggling network, and a strong showing by his party will serve as a reminder of the kind of political resources at his command.

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