Country Risk

Pro-government candidate backed by state resources and wealthy oligarch likely to dominate Kyrgyz presidential election

01 October 2017

Key Points

  • The two primary contenders for the poll represent the political establishment and the business community respectively.
  • The use of administrative resources is likely to benefit the government's preferred candidate, former prime minister Sooronbay Zheenbekov.
  • Improved monitoring, international attention and Atambayev's pledge to keep the election free and fair make it unlikely that irregularities will be large-scale, mitigating the likelihood of protests.


Following President Almazbek Atambayev's six-year term, during which Kyrgyzstan's political stability improved, the country is holding a relatively open and competitive election on 15 October.

Sooronbay Zheenbekov (L) leaves the rostrum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 21 August 2017 (Photo by Kyrgyzstan Prime Ministry Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Sooronbay Zheenbekov (L) leaves the rostrum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 21 August 2017 (Photo by Kyrgyzstan Prime Ministry Press Office / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

During his only speech at the UN General Assembly on 20 September, Kyrgyzstan's outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev called on the Kyrgyz public not to be fooled by "other people's leaders and rich people." He was referring to the meeting on 19 September between Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and a leading contender in Kyrgyzstan's presidential contest, former prime minister Omurbek Babanov. At that meeting the Kazakh leader expressed support for Babanov, who has a long track record of business ties to Kazakhstan. On the same day, Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a formal protest to Kazakhstan's Acting Ambassador Rymtay Karibzhanov, interpreting Nazarbayev's meeting with Babanov as "an attempt to influence the choice of Kyrgyz people and interference in the internal affairs of Kyrgyz Republic." On 25 September, Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission (CEC) Chair Nurzhan Shayldabekova described the Babanov-Nazarbayev meeting as "impermissible" and likely to violate electoral laws. This official focus on Babanov's actions highlights growing government uneasiness over the prospects of Atambayev's protégé, Sooronbay Zheenbekov (another former prime minister) for the presidential election on 15 October.

Oligarch vs. administrative resources

As of 25 September, 12 candidates remained involved in the presidential election. Of these, two are widely considered to be the leading contenders – Sooronbay Zheenbekov, nominated by the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) and Omurbek Babanov, who is running independently.

Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options

(333 of 988 words)