July 10, 2005

Kyrgyz vote frontrunner vows fair polls, stability

By Dmitry Solovyov

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Voters in Kyrgyzstan went to the polls
on Sunday to choose a new president in an election that
incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiyev, widely expected to win, pledged to
the West would be honest and boost stability.

The West has repeatedly said that free and fair elections
will add legitimacy to the Central Asian nation's new
leadership installed after a "People's Revolution" in March and
set a good example of democracy for its authoritarian regional

"These elections are unique, because for the first time
since independence they present a genuine choice in the most
accurate sense of this word," Bakiyev said after casting his

"No one was pressed or told how to vote," he told
reporters. "I want to stress once again that the elections will
be honest and transparent, in strict conformity with the
standards set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE)."

OSCE election monitors will deliver their verdict on

The elections were called to seek a successor to former
President Askar Akayev, who ruled the poor, mountainous Central
Asian nation for nearly 15 years but fled to Russia after
violent protests against a flawed parliamentary poll.

Bakiyev, a 55-year-old former prime minister under Akayev
who later joined the opposition and played a leading role in
the protests, is the frontrunner in the race of six candidates.

Kyrgyzstan, which borders China, has been volatile since
the March change of power, and Bakiyev's cabinet acknowledged
last month it was not in full control of security after a crowd
seized and briefly held the government headquarters.

The United States and Russia have military air bases in
Kyrgyzstan and they have both emphasized a need for stability.


The volatility of the agrarian nation of 5 million people
was again highlighted on Friday when hundreds of stick-wielding
people clashed in a dispute over a market in the south.

Bakiyev promised the country would emerge more stable from
the polls. "It'll all be quiet, tranquil and good." he said.

The European Union has said that a democratic ballot in
Kyrgyzstan would set an example for the country's neighbors.

The five former Soviet republics in Central Asia have a
history of flawed elections and government pressure on
opposition parties and independent media.

The leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have
all been in power since Soviet days. The president of
Tajikistan was installed in a 1992-97 civil war.

Many voters leaving a polling station in central Bishkek
said they only wanted a better life and peace.

"I voted for Bakiyev," said Salina Abdykadyrova, a shop
assistant aged 39. "There must be peace in Kyrgyzstan -- then
the economy will rise, and this current lawlessness be over."

Kyrgyzstan's 2.6 million eligible voters were able to cast
ballots from 7 a.m. (0100 GMT). Voting ends at 9 p.m. (1500
GMT), and turnout must exceed 50 percent to make the poll

Bolstering Bakiyev's chances are a lack of other prominent
candidates and the fact that former security services chief
Felix Kulov, jailed under Akayev, gave his support rather than
contest the ballot.

There had been concerns a race pitting Bakiyev, a
southerner, against Kulov, a northerner, could have aggravated
north-south tension in the country, which is divided by
mountains and has a large ethnic Uzbek population in the south.