|A coalition government is expected to emerge from the first democratic elections in Central Asia AFP]
Kyrgyzstan's legislative elections look set to produce a coalition government, with several parties running neck and neck after polling stations closed.
Sunday's vote was the first to be held under a new constitution aimed at creating Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy and the first after ethnic violence that left hundreds dead earlier this year.
Figures released by the country's electoral commission, based on returns from about 50 per cent of electoral precincts, suggest that no party will win a clear majority in the country's newly empowered parliament.
But the vote took place under the shadow of severe unrest earlier this year, triggered by the overthrow in April of then-president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, by opposition politicians led by Roza Otunbayeva, who took charge of the country.
Otunbeyeva championed a new political system, pushing through reforms that she hoped would bring an end to the bitter ethnic divisions which have plagued the troubled ex-Soviet state in recent months.
In June, violent clashes - particularly in the country's south - between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks left more than 400 people dead, most of them Uzbeks, and displaced around 400,000 people.
Many Uzbeks say they are still being victimised by security forces and targeted in the investigation into the clashes, and many feared the election could spark fresh unrest.
"This is the first test of the new system, the new constitution, and the new parliamentary democracy," Al Jazeera's James Bays reported from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, after polls closed.
But despite tensions running high in the run-up to the vote, polling passed off peacefully on Sunday, leaving the country appearing to be on the cusp of a period of political horsetrading between parties seeking to form a coalition government.
An exit poll published by the centrasia.ru regional news site, based on interviews with 1,306 voters, said Ar-Namys would reap 22.1 per cent of the vote followed by the pro-government Social Democratic Party with 20.7 per cent.
But the official figures from the country's electoral commission found that shares of the vote had been much smaller, with the strongly nationalist Ata-Zhurt party just ahead of it rivals with 8.9 per cent of the vote.
The Social Democratic Party was close behind on 8.4 per cent. Ar-Namys was closing the gap in third with 6.9 percent. The Republic Party was in fourth on 6.85 percent and another pro-government faction Ata-Meken in fifth with 6.1 per cent.
If the trend is continued these would be five parties to enter the Zhogorku Kenesh parliament, where a minimum threshold of five per cent of the vote is required to take seats.
"No party will have the majority in parliament," said Omurbek Tekebayev, Ata-Meken's leader. "Kyrgyzstan will for the first time have a coalition government but its make-up is not yet clear."
Authorities said turnout had been at 56.59 per cent, with Otunbeyeva hailing Sunday as a "historic day" for Kyrgyzstan as she cast her vote.
New system of governance
Under the new arrangements, parliament will pick a prime minister and play a key role in forming the government.
But the elections have highlighted a rivalry between parties backing the recently amended constitution which boosted the power of the legislature, and parties that aim to restore the authority of the presidency.
Kyrgyzstan, which hosts a strategically vital US air base near Afghanistan, is set to embrace a parliamentary system of governance, marking a sharp departure from the "strongman model" exercised under Bakiyev.
Political developments in Kyrgyzstan have pleased the US but annoyed Russia, which warned that the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia could be a catastrophe for Kyrgyzstan.
Geostrategically vital Kyrgyzstan - the only country in the world to host both Russian and US military bases - has long been considered the region's most politically volatile state.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies