In run-up to parliamentary polls, tensions re-emerge months after deadly unrest.
|A coalition government is expected to emerge from the first democratic elections in Central Asia AFP]|
Polling stations in Kyrgyzstan have closed in elections aimed at creating Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy.
Sunday’s vote was held amid fears that elections and potential power disputes could reignite ethnic violence that killed hundreds of people this year in the troubled ex-Soviet state.
“This is the first test of the new system, the new constitution, and the new parliamentary democracy. It will be a sensitive time in the coming hours,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays reported from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, after polls closed.
Final results should be released on Monday and a coalition government is expected, our correspondent said.
Roza Otunbayeva, the country’s acting president, championed the new political system that would be formed by the elections and said they would be held in a spirit of fairness and transparency.
“Today I am calm and I think that the elections will proceed normally, without excesses, because a lot of resources have been invested in them,” Roza Otunbayeva, the president, said as she cast her vote.
“Today is a historic day for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The people will choose their fate, their future.”
But coming after months of political turbulence and violence, tensions have been high in the run-up to the vote to choose a newly empowered legislature.
The Kyrgyz parliament was given new powers in a referendum following a violent uprising in April that toppled Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the then president, and brought Otunbayeva to power.
Otunbayeva and her allies hope the installation of parliamentary rule will restore stability to a country plagued by unrest since the uprising.
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.
A strong showing in the polls by supporters of Bakiyev could complicate matters, Bays reported.
If ex-president Bakiyev’s supporters return to power, the political order could once again become destabilised, our correspondent said.
There are 120 seats available in the Zhogorku Kenesh, the parliament. About 2.8 million of the country’s five million population are eligible to choose between the total of 29 parties.
Election officials say the vote will be overseen by a record number of international observers – 850 monitors from 32 organisations.
Around half a dozen parties are expected to gain seats, but no party is likely to win much more than 15 per cent of the vote, meaning a coalition government is inevitable.
Under the new arrangement, 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.
The final make-up of the coalition could be subject to protracted negotiations.
A pair of pro-Otunbayeva centre-left parties – Ata-Meken and the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) – are expected to figure prominently but not win a majority, according to recent opinion polls.
A possible upset could come from the Ar-Namys party led by ex-prime minister Felix Kulov, a favourite of the Kremlin who has campaigned under law-and-order slogans and vowed to reinstate the presidential system favoured by Moscow.
” I am sure my party has won,” Kulov declared after polls closed. “If my party is victorious, I will put myself forward for the post of prime minister.”
The avowedly nationalist Ata-Zhurt, targeted this week in a raid on its offices that saw piles of its campaign literature burned in the street, has also made a strong showing, especially amongst ethnic Kyrgyz in the south.
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.