“We can say now Kurmanbek Bakiyev has won by a landslide. We only don’t know the precise percentage of the votes he received,” said a Kyrgyz television presenter on Sunday.
If the numbers are confirmed he will lead the Central Asian state whose previous old post-Soviet leadership was ousted in a March uprising.
Earlier in the day, Bakiyev, who first took office when crowds protesting controversial parliamentary elections overran the seat of government, said the vote marked the country’s first genuinely free poll in years.
“For the first time in recent years the elections are actually elections. Every citizen of Kyrgyzstan has been provided with the right to choose. Nobody is pressuring anyone, nobody is threatening anyone,” Bakiyev said, after voting at a polling station near his Bishkek home.
Bakiyev gathered 88% of the vote, according to exit polls taken by three Western-funded Kyrgyz pollsters.
The closest of his five opponents, Akbaraly Aytikeyev, got just 4.6%, according to the polls.
The International democracy watchdog Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that civil and political rights of voters were “generally respected” in the election and the poll marked tangible democratic progress.
“The election marked a clear progress, although the quality of the process deteriorated during the count,” Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of the OSCE delegation in Kyrgyzstan said.
“For the first time in recent years the elections are actually elections. Every citizen of Kyrgyzstan has been provided with the right to choose. Nobody is pressuring anyone, nobody is threatening anyone”
Voters said they hoped the poll would end the instability that has plagued the mountainous country of five million people since crowds of rock-throwing, stick-wielding youths chased former president Askar Akayev from office on 24 March.
The former leader has since taken up residence near Moscow.
“My family and I hope this really changes something in the country, my parents want stability from Bakiyev,” said first-time voter Gulzada Takiyeva, 19.
Turnout among the country’s 2.6 million eligible voters reached 74.6%, well above the minimum required 50%, the central electoral commission said.
Some voters and observers have expressed disappointment, however, at a lack of genuine competition in a vote seen as all but won by 55-year-old Bakiyev, a former communist party functionary and Akayev-era prime minister.
“I’m sick of chaos and cataclysms,” said Anatoly Glotov, 56, adding that he backed Bakiyev but regretted there were “no alternative candidates”.
Akayev was chased from power
Bakiyev was a leading figure in the March revolt and was named interim president a day after Akayev fled.
In subsequent weeks he secured a deal clearing the field of his main rival, Felix Kulov, who dropped out of the race on a promise that he would be made prime minister.
Bakiyev faced five relative unknowns at Sunday’s poll.
The vote was being closely watched by the outside world as a potential landmark event – the first time any of the Central Asian former Soviet republics has had a change of leader, except during a bloody civil war in Tajikistan in the mid-1990s.
But the weeks since Akayev’s ouster have seen a continued wave of instability across the country, including violent protests.
A strong police presence was visible at polling stations, while the streets were patrolled by “people’s militias”, set up to rein in disorder following Akayev’s ouster. “No threat to the voting process has been detected so far,” a police spokesman said.
“Democracy has brought us corruption, thievery and prostitution”
As late in the campaign as Friday, the fragility of the situation was underlined, as rival groups clashed for control of a major bazaar in the southern town of Kara-Suu.
Neither is everyone in Kyrgyzstan happy with the results of what was initially billed as a democratic revolution.
A member of the underground Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir said Sunday’s vote represented no improvement on the Akayev era.
“Democracy has brought us corruption, thievery and prostitution,” the Hizb ut-Tahrir member, Diliar Dzhumabayev, said in the southern provincial centre of Osh.
“There will be violations during these elections, but the Western observers will close their eyes to them because it suits their interests.”
As both the United States and Russia have military bases in Kyrgyzstan, the vote also raises geopolitical concerns.
During his brief stewardship, Bakiyev has tilted his policy closer to Moscow and away from Washington.
The then interim president had said he favoured bolstering Russia’s military standing in Kyrgyzstan.
US withdrawal call
The newly-elected leader on Monday questioned the continued presence of US troops on a military base they have used since the 2001 war to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan.
International observers say
“We may proceed with the issue of whether it is expedient to still deploy military forces of the United States (in Kyrgyzstan),” Bakiyev said after securing victory.
“Time will show when and how it (withdrawal) happens.”
Russian officials were upbeat on Sunday’s balloting.
“The whole pre-election campaign and today’s voting are an example of a correct election process,” Russian ambassador Yevgeny Shmagin said.
The vote was being monitored by numerous observers, including over 300 from the OSCE.