There’s something very odd about Kyrgyzstan’s upcoming presidential election. The vote is less than a week away, and nobody knows who is going to win. In a region known for aging autocrats and rigged elections, Kyrgyzstan is a strange anomaly. The mountainous former Soviet republic of 6 million inhabitants has experienced two revolutions in the past 12 years and is now a chaotic but functioning democracy. A dozen contenders will take part in Sunday’s presidential vote, and the two leading contenders both say they expect to win. One is a former prime minister and the choice of the outgoing president, and the other is a charismatic businessman who promises more economic opportunities for the impoverished country. The capital, Bishkek, is plastered with billboards promoting various candidates, and the leading candidates draw thousands of people to their rallies.
“This will be the freest and fairest election in central Asian history,” said a senior western diplomat based in the country. “Elsewhere in the region the only intrigue is whether the ruling president will get 99% or 105% of the vote, while here we really don’t know who is going to win.”
Kyrgyzstan is one of the five central Asian “stans”, former Soviet republics that achieved independence in 1991. The other four have seen overbearing personality cults and leaders who only leave office when they die, but Kyrgyzstan is the outlier. The 2005 “tulip revolution” ousted Askar Akayev as president, and his successor Kurmanbek Bakiyev was unseated in a violent uprising in 2010.