Kyrgyzstan’s president said he would resign, injecting a fresh element of uncertainty into a political crisis that has engulfed the resource-rich Central Asian country following allegations of a voter fraud in a parliamentary election earlier this month.
President Sooronbai Jeenbekov Thursday said he intends to leave his post to avoid further clashes between security forces and protesters who took to the streets after the Oct. 4 vote, forcing him to temporarily leave the presidential residence. His promised departure propels the former Soviet republic into uncharted waters, strengthening the hand of a new, nationalist prime minister who has called for the nationalization of foreign-owned assets.
The wave of protests and subsequent upheavals have also alarmed Russia, the country’s most powerful ally and one of its biggest investors, which said it would suspend further financial aid.
“Insofar that there is no government, it’s a moment of crisis,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday. He added that the pause in financial aid was justified “until all institutions are working.”
The country’s parliament needs to approve Mr. Jeenbekov’s resignation, which could take effect on Friday.
There has been a wave of turmoil among former Soviet republics in recent weeks, undermining Russia’s efforts to more closely integrate countries spanning from Central Asia to Eastern Europe. Weekly mass protests are weakening Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko, one of Russia’s strongest allies, while a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is threatening Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus.
In Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China and the West have long competed for influence. It was home to a U.S. military base during much of its war in Afghanistan, but it was closed in 2014 following pressure from Russia, which also has an air base there that it plans to expand. The country also hosts several Chinese, Russian and Western-owned gold and copper mines, and Mr. Jeenbekov’s plan to step down leaves an unsettled political outlook for the country, though Russia isn’t in immediate danger of losing political ground in Kyrgyzstan.
Moscow has good relations across the political spectrum, though China has developed significant economic sway in recent years.
For foreign investors, however, the rise of newly-elected Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov presents fresh worries that an economic downturn, caused by slowing remittances from Russia, could add traction to his previous calls for the nationalization of foreign-owned mines.
“Foreign mines and their nationalization have always been used as a tool in nationalist rhetoric,” said Livia Paggi, partner at GPW, a political-risk consulting firm. “But regardless of whether he follows through with it, the perception that Kyrgyzstan is a safe destination for foreign investment has already been hit.”
In the short term, Mr. Jeenbekov’s departure would be a political win for Mr. Japarov, who has called in recent days for the president’s resignation. During last week’s demonstrations, protesters freed him from jail, where he had been serving a sentence for kidnapping. Mr. Jeenbekov’s announcement also comes days after a personal envoy from Russian President Vladimir Putin met with both Mr. Jeenbekov and Mr. Japarov.
Mr. Jeenbekov, who had been in office since late 2017, pitched his plans to leave as a selfless act for the good of the nation.
“I won’t hold on to power,” he said in a statement on the presidential website. “I don’t want to go down in history as the president who has spilled blood and shot at his own citizens.”
If Mr. Jeenbekov does step down, his powers would be transferred temporarily to the speaker of parliament. Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Committee said another presidential election would be held within three months of Mr. Jeenbekov’s resignation.
Unlike other countries of Central Asia that have long been ruled by authoritarian leaders or their chosen successors, Kyrgyzstan has seen power change hands a number of times since independence, including two revolutions in 2005 and 2010.
Politics are greatly influenced by a north-south divide, and many political parties fall along family and clan lines.
Write to Thomas Grove at email@example.com
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