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Enraged over an election they saw as undermined by rampant vote-buying, thousands stormed Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and presidential offices and took over government buildings throughout the country in an overnight revolution that on Tuesday forced election officials to declare the election void, OCCRP member center Kloop reported.
At least one person has died, and more than 600 were injured, in the unrest that erupted after the Central Election Commission announced on Monday the preliminary results of Sunday’s vote, which showed a landslide victory of pro-government parties. Just three of them took 107 of the 120 parliament seats, while opposition parties did not take one.
“These elections were held amid gross violations, massive vote buying, pressure and threats against voters — this is what influenced the voting process,” said a joint letter written by opposition parties to the electoral commission.
Although police employed water cannons, stun grenades, and tear gas, protesters took over the “White House,” which houses the parliament and the presidency, after hours-long clashes. Several floors were seen burning and videos posted on social media showed people throwing papers out of the window of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s office.
The crowd then moved toward other state institutions, including the government and the State Committee for National Security.
Seeing the protesters approaching, state security officials stepped out of the building with their hands in the air, declaring that they were “with the people.” The crowd demanded the release of former President Almazbek Atambaev and other political figures who had been jailed on corruption charges and for other crimes.
Atambayev and other prisoners were soon seen stepping out of the building.
As state institutions fell in the capital, protesters throughout the country took over government buildings. Mayors and other officials resigned one after the other. Some who resisted were beaten by the crowd, according to local media.
On Tuesday morning, President Jeenbekov appealed for calm and said that “some political forces tried to illegally seize state power” but that he had ordered law enforcement agencies not to shoot at citizens.
“Calmness in the state, stability of society are more valuable than any deputy mandate,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
“I suggested that the Central Election Commission carefully investigate the violations and, if necessary, annul the election results,” he added.
Preliminary results announced on Monday showed the Birimdik party, led by the brother of President Jeenbekov, and a party called Mekenim Kyrgyzstan taking more than 24 percent of the votes each. Other pro-government parties took less than 10 percent, while none of the opposition parties passed the threshold to enter parliament.
Mekenim Kyrgyzstan is backed by the powerful Matraimov family. One family member, Iskender Matraimov, was a candidate on the party’s list.
His brother Raimbek Matraimov, also seen as a major party backer, is perhaps the family’s most notorious member. A former deputy head of Kyrgyzstan’s customs service, Raimbek was the subject of a series of investigations by OCCRP, RFE/RL’s Radio Azattyk, and Kloop revealing that he oversaw massive corruption in the customs service, enabling fraud and benefiting from bribery. The revelations sparked anti-corruption and anti-Matraimov protests in Bishkek at the end of 2019.
Last week, a new round of investigations revealed the Matraimov family now has a private logistics empire in Kyrgyzstan, which it built through proxies and trusted associates in the wake of Raimbek Matraimov’s 2017 firing from the customs service. The new business enjoys a near-monopoly on an important trade route, and the Matraimovs have amassed many other businesses and properties across the country.
These are the seventh elections since Kyrgyzstan’s independence. Both Birimdik and Mekenim Kyrgyzstan are new to the parliament and were formed after the ruling Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan of former President Almazbek Atambayev collapsed.