Political Risk Analysis - No Clear Presidential Candidate In Sight - DEC 2017

BMI View : The extremely crowded presidential candidate field, with more than 30 people having declared their wish to be candidates, will lead to continued political uncertainty. In addition, there are signs of growing discord within the ruling party with the party having two presidential candidates. With candidates struggling to differentiate themselves amid a crowded field, we believe that it is likely they will turn to nationalistic and tribal arguments in order to gather votes, presenting downside risks to social stability. We therefore maintain our short-term political risk score at 56.3.

Kyrgyzstan will be holding its presidential election on October 15 and we believe that the extremely crowded candidate field will lead to continued political uncertainty. More than 30 citizens have declared their intentions to stand as candidates, with more than half of them being independents. In addition, there are two candidates from the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDPK), suggesting a growing discord within the party's leadership. It appears that current prime minister and SDPK nominee Sooronbai Jeenbekov and former premier and wealthy businessman Omurbek Babanov are the frontrunners. However, they are likely to face considerable challenges differentiating themselves amid the lack of consensus among the political elite. With candidates struggling to stand out, we believe that they could seek to invoke nationalist and tribal sentiments in an attempt to court votes, presenting downside risks to social stability. In view of the political uncertainty, we maintain our short-term political risk score at 56.3 (out of 100).

Jeenbekov And Babanov Still The Frontrunners

We believe that Jeenbekov and Babanov appear to be the frontrunners so far, with Jeenbekov in a slightly stronger position than Babanov. In addition to being the prime minister, Jeenbekov also has the support of both the SDPK and current president Almazbek Atamabayev (who is constitutionally barred from running for a second term). Jeenbekov's position as prime minister is also likely to be positive for his campaign by raising his public profile, and he has a support base in the south of the country. We believe that Jeenbekov's experience is likely to serve him well, with Jeenbekov having pledged to further develop relations with neighbouring countries such as Russia while continuing traditional diplomatic relations with the EU, US, and Japan.

In contrast, Babanov has a substantial fortune and has a degree of political influence due to his Respublika party. The Respublika party has 23 out of the 120 seats in parliament and is one of the five parties that surpassed the support threshold of 5.0% of eligible voters necessary to enter parliament. In addition, Babanov owns a media company that would enable him to run an effective campaign. However, we believe that Babanov's position is precarious despite Atambaev having noted in December 2016 that he would like to see a president come from the 'systemic opposition', which Babanov hails from. This is as an informal poll from the newspaper Vecherny Bishkek showed Babanov well ahead of others who might run for the presidency. With Atambaev having publicly stated his support for Jeenbekov, it is possible that the government could seek to derail Babanov's campaign to improve Jeenbekov's chances.

Growing Signs Of Rifts Within The Main Parties

We are also seeing signs of growing discord within the two largest parties in the country in the run-up to the presidential election, with the ruling SDPK and the Ata-Jurt party both having two presidential candidates to represent them. In particular, the decision by the speaker of parliament (and member of SDPK) Chinibay Tursunbekov, to run as an independent after the party officially nominated Jeenbekov as its candidate suggests an increasing rift between the party members. SDPK was the party of Atambaev, who was constitutionally forced to leave the party after he was elected as president in 2011. However, he continues to be associated with the party by most voters and it is possible that he will rejoin the party after his term expires. Atambaev's support and association with the SDPK is likely to translate into a degree of support for SDPK's candidate and the participation of Tursunbekov could lead to a splitting of the SDPK vote. On the other hand, Ata-Jurt nominated two presidential candidates, Kamchybek Tashiev and Ahmatbek Keldibekov, in what could be a possible compromise between the various groups.

Close Race Could See Rise In Nationalist And Tribal Issues

Given the crowded field, we believe it is possible that candidates will seek to play up nationalist and tribal issues in a bid to obtain support. Kyrgyzstan has more than 80 ethnic groups, and citizens still vote largely along tribal lines. Indeed, we are already seeing signs of nationalism coming into play, with well-known Kyrgyz politician Azimbek Beknazarov having supported the two Alta-Jurt candidates by stating that they were 'pure-blood Kyrgyz'. He added that 'Kyrgyzstan is needed for the Kyrgyz people and the state is for the Kyrgyz people, [and that] we have to build a home of the Kyrgyz people'. Tribal affiliations could also play a critical role, with Jeenbekov hailing from an area with large Uzbek and Tajik communities, while Babanov draws his support from the more ethnically Kyrgyz north. Lastly, the backing of Russia (a key ally) could also change the outcome of the election, with Moscow having yet to reveal which candidate it supports.