Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the chosen candidate of Kyrgyzstan’s outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, looked set for a surprise first-round victory in the country’s elections, according to preliminary results.
The central election commission said Jeenbekov had secured 54.22 percent of Sunday’s presidential vote based on a count from 97 percent of the polling stations.
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His main opponent, oil tycoon Omurbek Babanov, trailed well behind with 33.47 percent, according to the same early data.
Polls had predicted a close runoff between Jeenbekov, a protege of Atambayev promising continuity, and Babanov, a youthful 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.
Babanov’s campaign office declined to comment on the preliminary results but said it would do so on Monday.
“This election boils down to new power vs old power, between a man who spent millions of dollars of his own money on this campaign against an outgoing president determined to make sure his chosen successor enters office,” said Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, reporting from Kyrgyzstan’s, Bishkek.
He said that the vote was “a test of democracy not just for Kyrgyzstan” but for the whole of the region of Central Asia, which is mostly run by leaders “who cling to power”.
“Voters used an electronic voting system designed to eliminate fraud and had a genuine choice: 11 candidates, with two frontrunners,” said Forestier-Walker.
Security was heightened in the country due to Kyrgyzstan’s violent political history.
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.