Yesterday the two mayors of the cities of Bishkek and Osh, in Kyrgyzstan, have been elected. Legislation approved by the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev in December 2013 called for the mayors to be elected in secret ballots by the local municipal councils, instead of being appointed by the president directly. Mayoral elections have been followed by observers and Kyrgyz citizens with great interest because of the political importance of the two cities. In the capital Bishkek, the single pro-government candidate Kubanychbek Kulmatov, a former representative of the Government in the Northern province of Chui and former head of the State Customs Service, was smoothly elected as mayor. In the Southern city of Osh, the second largest in this Central Asian presidential republic, the former mayor Melis Myrzakmatov failed to be re-elected and denounced electoral fraud. The municipal city council elected the pro-presidential candidate Aitmamat Kadyrbaev as mayor. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, up to 10,000 supporters of Myrzakmatov, including at least 80 men on horseback, tried to storm the regional administration building in Osh, protesting the election results. It is reported that six police officers were wounded. The rally dispersed peacefully after Myrzakmatov asked his supporters not to succumb to provocations and pledged to begin a new opposition movement. The former chief of the Osh regional police, Abdulla Kapparov, brought a portrait of the President Atambaev to the central square and publicly burned it.
Melis Myrzakmatov is a rather controversial political personality. He is one of the few politicians who maintained strong ties with Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president, Kurmanbek Bakiev. Bakiev fled the country in 2010 after massive protests. Moreover, Myrzakmatoc was ousted as Osh mayor in early December 2013, because of technical reason. However the decree, signed by the Prime Minister Jantoro Satybaldiev on the 5th December 2013, was never made public. Myrzakmatov’s firing came just three days after he joined protests in support of a fellow Southerner, the former parliament speaker Akmatbek Keldibekov, who was arrested for financial crimes. The dismissal caused popular protests in Osh. Protesters quickly gathered outside the city administration building, demanding an explanation for Myrzakmatov’s firing.
The Southern region of Kyrgyzstan is at the centre of international attention for two reasons. The first reason is that few days ago, a border incident with Tajikistan caused injuries to five Kyrgyz and three Tajik border guards. Yesterday, Kyrgyzstan recalled the Kyrgyz Ambassador in Tajikistan. The borders between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have been contested since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Concerns for ethnic tension are growing, as in 2010 the city of Osh was the centre of ethnic clashes between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Myrzakmatov enjoys strong support among Kyrgyz residents in the city. Secondly, Kyrgyzstan went through two mass mobilisations in 2005 and 2010, both resulting in the overthrowing of the presidents Akayev and Bakiev. Thus, the Kyrgyz government is looking with preoccupation at the possibility that any popular protests could spark, causing political instability.