Voters in Kyrgyzstan are heading to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president in what is hoped to be the country’s first peaceful transition of power.
Outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, who cannot seek a second term under the country’s constitution, will step down after six years in power.
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Security has been heightened in the country due to Kyrgyzstan’s violent political history.
The first two leaders since 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.
Almost three million Kyrgyz will cast their votes for more than 12 candidates, but none of those running is expected to win an outright majority.
Many analysts are predicting a runoff between two former prime ministers: Sooronbai Jeenbekov – the president’s choice, and wealthy entrepreneur, Omurbek Babanov.
The Social Democratic party’s Jeenbekov is a seasoned politician, while Babanov of the Respublika-Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) party has promised to bring dynamism and change in the country.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from the capital Bishkek, said that voters in Kyrgyzstan have a “real choice” in the unprecedented election.
The two frontrunners have engaged in a tense, tit-for-tat campaign in advance of the vote.
“There has been a lot of mudslinging,” said Forestier-Walker.
Babanov, who has spent a lot of his own money on the campaign, has drawn criticism for his mixed ethnicity.
“This is a country where ethnicity is a big issue,” said Al Jazeera’s correspondent.
“If you, perhaps, have come from a mixed background, then you’re somehow considered not the man for the job.”
Babanov’s meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev earlier in September also sparked an outcry from the government.
The diplomatic row between the two neighbours led to the closure of the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border.
To eliminate voter and counting fraud, a digital voting system has been in place in the country in the last few years
Polls opened at 02:00 GMT on Sunday and will close at 14:00 GMT.
If a candidate fails to win more than 50 percent of the votes, a second round runoff will take place in November.