Kyrgyzstan’s parliament has installed Sadyr Japarov, a convicted kidnapper, as the country’s new prime minister less than a week after protesters broke him out of prison.
Immediately after parliament on Saturday approved his premiership, Mr Japarov called for President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to resign. This would allow him to consolidate power and complete Kyrgyzstan’s third revolution in 15 years.
“I met with Sooronbai. He said he would resign and leave,” local media quoted him as saying.
Under Kyrgyzstan’s constitution Mr Japarov, a firebrand nationalist convicted in 2017 of kidnapping a regional official in a case which he says was politically motivated, will take over as president if Mr Jeenbekov quits, and also be the prime minister, because there is currently no parliamentary speaker.
His promotion goes some way to filling a power vacuum in Kyrgyzstan since a disputed parliamentary election triggered protests that overwhelmed police, forced the government to resign and Mr Jeenbekov, Kyrgyz president since 2017, to flee the capital.
Former Soviet Kyrgyzstan has few natural resources but between 2001-14 the United States had operated a military base near Bishkek which it used as a stage post to send soldiers and kit to Afghanistan. Western policymakers’ main worry now is that instability in Kyrgyzstan could unsettle Central Asia which holds important oil, gas and mineral reserves and borders Russia, China, Afghanistan and Iran.
Since the uprising there have been no police on Bishkek’s streets but on Friday, possibly acting on orders from the Kremlin which wants to maintain its authority in its traditional backyard, Mr Jeenbekov imposed a state of emergency and ordered the military to set up checkpoints.
The next day, under a statue of the semi-mythical Manas, Kyrgyzstan’s national hero, hundreds of policemen and soldiers paraded in Bishkek’s main square in an apparent show of force.
A few hundred metres away, overlooked by a statue of Lenin, a more excitable crowd cheered passionate speeches supporting Mr Japarov.
“I have no job. I only work a bit of my land for a living,” said a middle-aged man listening to the speeches. “Japarov is different from the rest of them. He is for the people, he needs to be prime minister.”
But for Bishkek’s more Western-minded intelligentsia, Mr Japarov’s journey from a prison cell to the prime minister’s office in less than a week is a metaphor for Kyrgyzstan’s instability and reinforces its reputation for gangster politics.
And Mr Japarov’s supporters also have a reputation for violence.
On Friday, after four days of rallies, they fought with rival factions in central Bishkek. Videos showed two men shooting at a car carrying rival politician Almazbek Atambayev, a former president who was also sprung from jail on Monday. Police have since recaptured Atambayev and returned him to prison.