Kyrgyz president-elect dismisses fears of strongman rule
Kyrgyz populist Sadyr Japarov promised supporters a "dictatorship of law and justice" on Monday and dismissed fears of a strongman crackdown after a huge election win completed his journey from prison to the presidency.
Japarov scooped more than 80 percent of the vote in Sunday's election in ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, with a similar proportion backing reforms in a simultaneous referendum that will grant him sweeping powers.
Speaking to supporters in Bishkek's central square -- the site of revolutions in 2005 and 2010 as well as unrest last year that helped propel Japarov to power -- he said opponents were "scaremongering" in their depictions of him as a hardliner.
"There will be no dictatorship as some scaremongers say. There will be a dictatorship of law and justice," he said, borrowing a phrase from Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose country is a key ally for Kyrgyzstan.
"We have waited for this moment for 30 years," Japarov told supporters feasting on pilau and bread at a concert of traditional music, asking them to "criticise, advise and guide" him in his work.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said on Monday the election had lacked "a level playing field" as Japarov's well-funded campaign dominated those of his rivals' campaigns.
However, the organisation said the election and the parallel referendum were "generally well organised".
The United States embassy called in a statement Monday for authorities to investigate "credible allegations of voter intimidation during the campaign period and on Election Day" that were documented by a local monitoring group.
The 52-year-old had been serving jail time on hostage-taking charges until October, when his supporters freed him during mass protests.
He always described the conviction, which has now been overturned by a judge, as politically motivated, while strongly denying claims that he has ties to criminal networks that are deeply embedded in local politics.
The referendum result indicating a preference for presidential rule, as championed by Japarov, spells the end for a mixed constitution adopted a decade ago to tame authoritarianism, after two successive strongman presidents were ejected from power.
One Japarov supporter in the hundreds-strong crowd at the concert told AFP that he believed the vote winner was "pure in his heart, thoughts and words".
"We see that he is ready to fight for the country," said Jakshylyk Saparaliyev, 45.
Another supporter, 65-year-old Damira Baiserkeyeva said that the politician "came to us for our happiness", while acknowledging that many citizens had reservations about him.
"Good and bad are always close to one another. But I believe he is ready to work for the people."
While Japarov has inspired his supporters during his rapid rise to power, turnout at the elections was less than 40 percent.
Political analyst Azim Azimov told AFP that he believed this was partly a result of less vote-buying, which he said happened on an "industrial scale" during the parliamentary vote which sparked a political crisis in October.
Former president Sooronbay Jeenbekov became the third Kyrgyz leader to resign in political chaos, as supporters freed their hero from prison the night after the vote and powered him to the top of the political pyramid.
With its threadbare economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, Kyrgyzstan's next leader is likely to be even more dependent on Russia -- a destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants -- and neighbouring economic giant China.
Putin had described the overthrow of the previous government as a "misfortune" and chided Kyrgyz politicians for attempting to imitate Western democracies.
But he was among the first leaders to congratulate Japarov on his victory, noting that further cooperation between the two countries "meets the fundamental interests of our friendly peoples" in a telegram Monday.
Beijing's ambassador met with Kyrgyz officials several times last year to discuss protection for Chinese businesses, some of which were attacked during the unrest in October.
The embassy said in a statement Monday that Beijing "always respects the development path chosen by the Kyrgyz side in accordance with the national realities in the country".