October 10, 2010 12:01 pm

Kyrgyzstan voters head to the polls

Voters in Kyrgyzstan turned out in large numbers on Sunday for a historic election to create the first parliamentary republic in central Asia.

After five months of deadly political and ethnic turmoil, citizens hope that the poll will bring stability to Kyrgyzstan, and end two decades of authoritarian presidential rule,

“We are opening a new page in the history of Kyrgyzstan,” said Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the interim government which took power after a violent uprising in April forced Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the former president, to flee.

“We are not simply voting for a parliament. We are introducing a new system of state management – a parliamentary republic,” she said in an address to the nation on Saturday.

In a region where elections – when contested– are usually rigged in favour of pro-presidential parties, the poll is uniquely competitive. There are 29 parties vying for parliamentary seats.

Welcoming the election, the United Nations urged the Kyrgyz people to vote on Sunday and utilise their democratic right to choose their leaders.

“This is they first time in Kyrgyzstan’s history when it is not possible to predict the winner of an election,” said Miroslav Jenca, the United Nations representative in central Asia. “It is important to go out and vote according to the constitution.”

Several of the parties competing in the poll, including Ata Zhurt, a haven for Mr Bakiyev’s supporters, favour a return to presidential rule, which was rejected in a nationwide referendum in June.

Ms Otunbayeva warned that an “ideological battle” between rival political groups could yet undermine democratic reform.

“We sense an attack on what we are doing. But the people agreed to a parliamentary republic at a referendum and we will defend it,” she said after casting her vote in Bishkek.

Voting in Bishkek was conducted in a sombre atmosphere without the music and dancing customary at elections held since the Soviet era.

“We are doing it seriously,” said Lyudmila Salukaeva, the manager of a polling station near the government headquarters which was abandoned since the uprising in April that drove Mr Bakiyev from power.

“We played the national anthem at the beginning, but there will be no more music. It distracts people.”

Bolot Suleyman, an economics student, said he was voting for “justice and equality” in Kyrgyzstan, but warned there was a risk the election would spark unrest.

“There could be various provocations. It is a risk. Almost everyone at the university thinks there will be chaos,” said Mr Suleyman.

After the election, winning parties will divide up seats in the parliament on a proportional basis and form a coalition to lead the house.

Mr Jenca warned there was a risk that political infighting after the poll could destabilize Kyrgyzstan.

“”People are not always good at accepting defeat,” he said. “There is a temptation to bring people onto the street and even use force.”

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