From Hiding, Head of Central Asia’s Only Democracy Says He’s Quitting

Read or download PDF of Overview Chapter here

Oct. 15, 2020

MOSCOW — After more than a week in hiding following a disputed election, the president of Kyrgyzstan — Central Asia’s only democracy — on Thursday announced his plans to resign, saying he did not want to go down in history as a leader “who shed blood and shot at his own citizens.”

In a statement issued from an undisclosed location, the president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, said he had “taken a decision to resign,” though he did not specify whether he had already quit.

Just a few hours earlier, Mr. Jeebenkov had assured a delegation of former senior officials and political veterans that he had no plans to step down and would stand firm against a power grab widely believed to be backed by criminal elements.

Feliks Kulov, a former prime minister who met with the president on Thursday morning, voiced concern over Mr. Jeenbekov’s abrupt change of heart, speculating in a post on Facebook that the leader had been “presented with a choice: voluntary resignation or a real war.”

The day’s dizzying events, which left a freed prisoner in charge of the government as prime minister, seemed to signal the end of what began as a protest by mainstream opposition forces over a rigged election and degenerated last week into a reign of chaos fueled by thugs and criminals.

Mr. Jeenbekov vanished from view after protesters, enraged by Oct. 4 parliamentary elections that were marred by widespread vote-buying, stormed the president’s office and other government buildings in the capital, Bishkek. He was rumored to have taken refuge in a Russian military air base in the town of Kant, about 12 miles from Bishkek, but his exact whereabouts remained unclear.

His departure is the third time in 15 years that violent protests have toppled a president of Kyrgyzstan, the only country in the region with a vibrant civil society, a relatively free press and regular competitive elections for Parliament and the presidency.

The Kremlin, which in 2010 helped engineer the toppling of a Kyrgyz president who had resisted Russian pressure to shut down a since closed United States air base in his country, responded coolly to the announcement on Thursday. Mr. Jeenbekov has had good relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Russia is watching the events in Bishkek “very closely,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told journalists in Moscow, and wants “the situation there to calm down as soon as possible.”