Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of historic political upheaval, spurred on by nearly three decades of government misrule, a frustrated civil society and the rise of unsavory criminal groups to positions of power. With the resignation last week of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov amid mass protests, and his shocking replacement by a convicted felon freshly sprung from jail, the Central Asian nation looks set for more volatility—and the Kyrgyz people will pay the price.
The trouble began with parliamentary elections on Oct. 4, which were marred by blatant evidence of fraud and vote-buying on behalf of government-friendly candidates. Official results showed two pro-regime parties winning a majority of seats, implausibly suggesting an unpopular government had been returned resoundingly to power. While unfair elections are not new for Kyrgyzstan, this vote followed a decade of efforts to clean up the country’s electoral process and make it more transparent. Many Kyrgyz saw the sudden return to old practices as a slap in the face, pushing them into the streets to voice their dismay.
It appeared to be the start of the country’s third grassroots uprising since its independence in 1991. Yet, peaceful protests soon devolved into a power struggle between rival political factions when violent groups hijacked the demonstrations and began looting businesses. During a chaotic night of protests that began on Oct. 5 and lasted into the next day, an angry mob stormed the White House complex in the capital, Bishkek, where parliament and the president’s offices are located, with calls for Jeenbekov to resign. One demonstrator was killed and hundreds more injured as security forces used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.