Politics

Kyrgyzstan eyes peaceful transfer of power after poll

Presidential challenger Omurbek Babanov appears prepared to concede defeat to rival Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Electoral officials put turnout at just under 56 percent [Vyacheslav Oseledko//AFP/Getty Images]

Omurbek Babanov, who lost Kyrgyzstan's bitterly-fought presidential election to Sooronbai Jeenbekov, on Monday seemed willing to accept the result without challenge, paving the way for the republic's first peaceful transfer of power.

Jeenbekov is to become the fifth president of Kyrgyzstan after winning more than 54 percent of Sunday's vote to replace outgoing leader Almazbek Atambayev. 

The 58-year-old, Atambayev's preferred successor, was running against 10 other candidates, but his main challenger was Babanov, a 47-year-old  former oil trader.

"In these elections, I got a place which I was given," Babanov, who won more than 33 percent of the vote, told reporters on Monday.

"We showed that in Kyrgyzstan, you can and should go and vote. Time will tell who was right and who was wrong," he added, asking his supporters "not to respond to provocations".

Babanov's comments came as European poll observers said vote-buying and significant procedural problems marred the vote, though they praised the move towards an orderly transfer of power.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the election in the Central Asian former Soviet republic as "competitive", but said that "pressure on voters and vote-buying remain a concern."

The mission's statement mentioned "numerous and significant procedural problems" during the vote count and initial stages of tabulation. But it said the election had "contributed to the strengthening of democratic institutions by providing for an orderly transfer of power".

Outgoing leader hits back

Atambayev, who developed particularly close ties with Russia during his six years in office, dismissed Western criticism as biased.

"Of course, they would be singing praise if a pro-American candidate won the election," Kyrgyz news website 24.kg quoted him as telling foreign diplomats in a meeting on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday became the first foreign leader to congratulate Jeenbekov on his victory.

Jeenbekov thanked opponents for making the elections "competitive" during a speech at his campaign headquarters on Sunday night.

Polls had predicted a close runoff between Jeenbekov, a protege of Atambayev promising continuity, and Babanov, an oligarch pledging to kick-start a chronically impoverished economy.

Both men served as prime ministers under Atambayev, who steps down after six years in power. The Kyrgyzstan constitution allows the president to serve only one six-year term.

An official confirmation of the figures is expected within a week. An unchallenged result would mark the first peaceful transition of power between full-time presidents in the mostly Muslim nation.

The first two leaders after the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago were removed following riots in 2005 and 2010, but the mainly Muslim nation has since changed its parliamentary system.

With results from 98 percent of the polling stations counted, the Central Election Commission on Monday put turnout at just under 56 percent. 

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies