Kyrgyz election officials on Saturday announced presidential elections for January 10 even as police raided their offices, in what appeared to be a power struggle with the country's acting leader.
The impoverished ex-Soviet state in Central Asia has been embroiled in political chaos since the unrest following the results of parliamentary elections held earlier this month. The Central Elections Committee (CEC) finally annulled them following mass protests.
Sadyr Japarov, a populist politician who had been serving a prison sentence for hostage-taking but who was released during the unrest, is now both acting president and prime minister.
Since Japarov, 51, took power he has promised fresh parliamentary and presidential elections — but only after making changes to the constitution.
He has also called for the elections commission to be disbanded and reformed, saying it was something the people had called for along with the recent resignation of former president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
The law requires that presidential elections within three months of Jeenbekov’s departure.
But on Saturday morning, police raided the CEC headquarters as part of a probe launched by the interior ministry into alleged voting violations during the now-annulled October parliamentary elections.
CEC member Gulnara Djurabayeva denounced the raid as a form of “pressure on a constitutional body”, during an interview with local media.
The results of the October 4 vote were cancelled after a protest led by losing parties against vote-buying and other violations escalated into violent clashes pitting protesters against police.
Earlier this week, lawmakers cancelled new parliamentary elections that the CEC had set for December 20 by suspending part of the constitution — a move some lawyers and politicians argued may not have been legal.
Japarov himself has proposed a number of changes to the constitution, arguing that citizens should be able to decide whether or not to revert to a presidential system from the current mixed system.
Before protesters freed him this month, the former lawmaker was serving a sentence for hostage-taking dating back to a 2013 incident during a rally for the nationalisation of a gold mine.
Russia, which has a military base in Kyrgyzstan and is a destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants, has expressed concern at the unrest there.
Kyrgyz foreign minister Ruslan Kazakbayev and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov held talks Friday in the highest-level meeting between the two countries since Japarov became leader.
Japarov has not yet been endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who this week referred to an “unfortunate…seizure of power”. Putin also noted that Russia had done “a lot” to keep Kyrgyzstan “standing” through investments and financial aid.
Former president Jeenbekov is the third leader to step down amid political chaos in the ex-Soviet country since independence in 1991.