Voters in the turbulent Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan voted Sunday in a presidential election that could set a democratic example for authoritarian neighbors. While international observers have hailed the wide range of candidates on offer and recent improvements to electoral legislation, there are concerns that the vote could ignite interregional tensions.
Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished nation of around 5 million people on China’s western fringes, is home to both U.S. and Russian military air bases, making its fortunes the subject of lively international interest.
Outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva, a seasoned diplomat who served as ambassador in Washington and London and has been running the country as interim leader since 2010, will step down later this year to make way for the election winner. That sets the stage for the first peaceful transition of power in this economically struggling ex-Soviet nation’s history.
The election primarily pits front-runner Almazbek Atambayev against two popular nationalist politicians — Kamchibek Tashiyev and Adakhan Madumarov.
In the likely event that nobody garners more than 50 percent of the ballots, a runoff will have to be held within a month between the two top vote-getters.
Atambayev, who had the best-funded campaign and enjoyed significant public exposure by serving as prime minister until last month, voiced hope for an outright victory.
“I have bright hopes, it is time for our country to live, achieve harmony and flourish. People are tired of political battles and meetings,” he said after voting.