Kyrgyzstan was heading for a coalition government Monday with several parties neck-and-neck in legislative elections held under a new constitution, after unrest this year that left hundreds dead.
The pro-Moscow Ar-Namys party led by flamboyant former prime minister Felix Kulov proclaimed victory in the elections for the first parliament to have meaningful powers in ex-Soviet Central Asia.
But the country appeared set for coalition bartering between five main parties, a scenario completely uncharacteristic of a region where strongman presidents and rubber-stamp parliaments are the rule.
The authorities hailed a robust turnout of 56.59 percent and the polls have so far defied warnings they could be scarred by a resurgence of this year’s political and ethnic violence.
“Today is a historic day for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The people will choose their fate, their future,” President Roza Otunbayeva, who championed the new political system, said as she cast her vote.
Kyrgyzstan created Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy in a referendum earlier this year after the bloody April revolution which toppled former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev and deadly inter-ethnic clashes in June.
An exit poll published by the centrasia.ru regional news site, based on interviews with 1,306 voters, said Ar-Namys would reap 22.1 percent of the vote followed by the pro-government Social Democratic Party with 20.7 percent.
But the strongly nationalist Ata-Zhurt party was just ahead in the vote count with some 8.9 percent of the vote, results published by the central election commission said based on 50 percent of electoral precincts.
However the Social Democratic Party was close behind on 8.4 percent. Ar-Namys was closing the gap in third with 6.9 percent.
The Republic Party was in fourth on 6.85 percent and another pro-government faction Ata-Meken in fifth with 6.1 percent.
Potential of five parties in parliament
If the trend is continued these would be five parties to enter the Zhogorku Kenesh parliament, where a minimum threshold of five percent of the vote is required to take seats.
Confusing an already muddy picture, the central election commission gave the figures as a percentage of the total electorate and not of those who actually cast their ballots on the day.
“No party will have the majority in parliament,” said Ata-Meken’s leader Omurbek Tekebayev. “Kyrgyzstan will for the first time have a coalition government but its make-up is not yet clear.”
Kulov, who was received by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ahead of the vote, campaigned under law-and-order slogans and vowed to reinstate the presidential system of government favoured by Moscow.
“I am sure my party has won,” Kulov declared after the close of polls. “If my party is victorious, I will put myself forward for the post of prime minister.”
The virulently nationalist Ata-Zhurt, whose leader Kamchybek Tashiyev has made controversial statements warning non-Kyrgyz ethnic groups not to seek the same rights as the majority, has also polled strongly.
The only country in the world to host both Russian and US military bases, Kyrgyzstan stands at a strategic location bordering China and close enough to Afghanistan to serve as a crucial supply hub for US forces.
Kyrgyzstan has for years been the most unstable in the region and Bakiyev, who has taken refuge in Belarus since his ousting, himself came to power on the back of the so-called Tulip Revolution uprising of 2005.
Clashes between ethnic-majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks left between 400 and 2,000 people dead in the south of the country in June, with Uzbeks claiming they were the victims of targeted bloodletting by the security forces.
In the main southern city of Osh there was an uneasy calm as voters queued outside polling stations which in some cases were little more than a room amid the rubble of burned out homes.