Who is Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister, Sadyr Zhaparov?
Zhaparov, a nationalist who wants to share Kyrgyzstan’s gold wealth with the public, was freed by protesters amid unrest.
The dust has settled on Bishkek’s streets and the political upheaval that followed Kyrgyzstan’s disputed parliamentary election has quieted.
On Wednesday, the country got a new prime minister.
Sadyr Zhaparov, who only days ago was behind bars serving a sentence for kidnapping a public official, has become the country’s new head of government.
Most observers of Kyrgyz politics believe that the appointment of a low-ranking politician and convicted criminal to the post has been orchestrated by forces working behind the scenes.
Zhaparov was elected to Parliament in 2005 as a supporter of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was overthrown in a revolution in 2010 after it became clear that he was involved in mass-scale corruption.
At the time, Zhaparov was serving as a commissioner in the state’s anti-corruption agency.
Following the revolution, he continued his political career as a member of a pro-Bakiev party and over the years staunchly supported the nationalisation of the country’s gold mines.
In 2013 he was sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison for taking a provincial governor in the town of Karakol hostage during a protest against the local Kumtor goldmine project.
But before landing behind bars, he fled to Kazakhstan and was only caught at the Kazah-Kyrgyz border in March 2017.
The events of early October have taken everyone by surprise.
Following the October 4 parliamentary election, Bishkek’s streets dissolved into chaos as protesters stormed prisons, freeing a number of high-level inmates, including Zhaparov and former President Almazbek Atambayev.
Crowds stormed the parliament building; the country’s prime minister and speaker of the parliament resigned.
As people supporting different opposition factions faced off, one person, a 19-year-old man, was killed amid clashes.
Deputy speaker of parliament Mirlan Bakirov, a member of Mekenim Kyrgyzstan, a party connected with the notorious Kyrgyz kingmaker Rayimbek Matraimov, proposed fresh-from-prison Zhaparov for the role of prime minister.
Masses of supporters began to rally around their new national hero. Some were drawn by his nationalism and the promise to give back to the people the privatised gold mines, the “stolen” national wealth.
Other Zhaparov supporters are accused of stoking violence at opposition rallies.
Some are believed to have threatened deputy speaker Aida Kasymalieva with beating and rape. During an October 9 rally for former President Atambayev, a strong critic of Zhaparov, allegedly pro-Zhaparov crowds crashed the gathering.
An opposition leader was injured and Atambayev’s car was shot at while escaping the unrest.
“I think nobody can tell really how it’s possible that Zhaparov jumped from a place of detention immediately to the highest echelons of power. Nobody can answer this question currently and it’s puzzling all of us,” said Asel Doolotkeldieva, a Kyrgyz academic.
“Was it an orchestrated plan by a group of people who wanted to take advantage of the revolt and advance their own interests or was it a spontaneous act by Zhaparov’s supporters? We don’t know.”
Zhaparov’s supporters called for the resignation of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov and the newly appointed speaker of parliament, Kanatbek Isayev. Jeenbekov quit on Thursday.
Questions over who is behind the Zhaparov project remain.
But his general popular appeal should not be underestimated.
“The idea that natural wealth should belong to the people is extremely popular among ordinary citizens who have been devoid of gold rents for three decades now,” said Doolotkeldieva. “Zhaparov has been able to capitalise on that and that’s why he enjoys support everywhere, both in the south and in the north. His popularity is cross-regional.”