A power vacuum is threatening to destabilise Kyrgyzstan, which is struggling to come up with legitimate ways of initiating a power transfer following the violent uprising over a disputed parliamentary election result. The euphoria felt after opposition groups seized the parliament building has quickly turned to uncertainty and insecurity.
As the government appears to be demoralised by past events, mob rule is spreading across the country. People are storming into government offices and appointing their leaders to positions of chairperson, mayor or minister.
However, these self-declared “appointments” can quickly be overruled by another, bigger mob. This is what happened to the leader of the Bir Bol party Almambet Shykmamatov, who declared himself the new prosecutor-general only to give up the job to a representative of another party who showed up at the office building with a few hundred people.
Mayors are “overthrown”, government representatives are forced to resign.
Several co-ordination councils have been formed to enforce order on the streets and to carry out a transfer of power. Each of them claims to represent authority during the transition period.
Some groups have used this power vacuum to release imprisoned politicians with controversial backgrounds, among them former President Almazbek Atambayev, who was jailed for corruption, and Sadyr Japarov, a former MP from the nationalist Ata Jurt party who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking a hostage.
Melis Myrzakmatov, a notorious former mayor of Osh, the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan, also returned from self-exile and started rallying his supporters. Mr Myrzakmatov is known for his nationalistic rhetoric in the region where ethnic clashes took place in 2010 when he was mayor.
The emergence of these figures and groups inevitably leads to a power struggle, as each of them aims to promote their own interests.
Lack of legitimacy
The focus of the main battle has become the job of prime minister.
On Tuesday, a group of 35 MPs gathered in a hotel behind closed doors and announced Mr Japarov was the new prime minister. The following day, another group declared Tilek Toktogaziev, from a rival party, would fill this role instead. At this rate, some observers joke, Kyrgyzstan will get a new prime minister every day.
All these new councils and appointments have little or no legitimacy. According to the Constitution, a majority party or coalition must nominate a candidate for prime minister, then parliament votes to approve his or her candidacy. And at least 61 MPs out of 120 must be present. The session must also be open to the media and public scrutiny. None of these procedures have been observed.
The only legitimate body is parliament itself, says Saniya Toktogazieva, a lawyer and an expert on constitutional law.
“The only way out of this is to have an extraordinary session of the parliament where they appoint a new cabinet,” Ms Toktogazieva says. Then, she adds, parliament must impeach the president if he refuses to step down voluntarily. The speaker of the parliament will become acting president and call for a re-run of the election.
Many in Kyrgyzstan blame President Sooronbay Jeenbekov for allowing systematic vote buying and other widespread irregularities during the parliamentary election to ensure that only parties loyal to him won seats in parliament. And after the violent crackdown on protesters, opposition parties want Mr Jeenbekov to leave.
Yet, Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the UK, Edil Baisalov, says that both the president and parliament must be used to overcome the current crisis.
“We shouldn’t write him off – [Sooronbay Jeenbekov] is still the head of state. He is ready to guarantee succession and legality, as he told BBC Kyrgyz. Those who demand impeachment do not understand what it may lead to. It may result in banditry, the appearance of local kings, declaring some councils who want to seize power.”
In the interview with BBC Kyrgyz, Mr Jeenbekov said he was “ready to give responsibility to strong leaders” but in his public addresses he only called for a dialogue and a return to the legal framework.
This is the third uprising since 2005 in Kyrgyzstan. “The Tulip revolution” in 2005 and the “April revolution” in 2010 that ousted the ruling presidents were followed by looting, taking over private businesses by force and, in 2010, by ethnic clashes.
This time, after what now is widely referred to as the “October revolution”, many fear such unrest and violence may happen again. The country is already facing growing instability both in the capital and in the regions.
People linked to criminal groups have attacked and seized several gold and coal mines in Issik Kul, Naryn and other regions. In some cases, they set fire to equipment and physically attacked workers.
Bishkek residents and activists have formed vigilante groups to protect major shopping malls and business centres in the city.
“On Wednesday night there was a large group of people,” said Taalay Nasirdinov, a member of the Reform party. “They walked along the road and threw stones. We followed them to ensure nothing happened. I believe they were provocateurs who wanted to loot shops and that way discredit us – protesters who fought for honest and free elections.”
Vigilante groups also gathered outside the building of the prime minister’s office. They stopped supporters of Mr Japarov from seizing the building.
Tensions remain high as too many opposing political groups are forcing their agenda on others.
“We have such chaos,” said Mr Nasirdinov. “If things continue like now, we will never reach a consensus. Instead of one dragon – President Jeenbekov – we have now at least three or four and this may drag us apart following different interests. And I am scared of the worst-case scenario – a civil war. I am worried that we may lose our country.”