Kyrgyzstan’s former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev won enough votes in a presidential election to avoid a runoff as his rivals threatened to contest the results in the Central Asian nation.
With 99.65 percent of ballots counted, Social Democratic Party leader Atambayev was ahead with 63 percent of the vote, followed by United Kyrgyzstan’s Adakhan Madumarov at 15 percent and Kamchybek Tashiyev, leader of the Fatherland party, with 14 percent, according to preliminary results released today by the Central Electoral Commission in the capital, Bishkek. Turnout was 60 percent.
The defeated candidates haven’t recognized the results even as Atambayev offered to include his rivals in a future government. International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted “significant irregularities on election day, especially during the counting and tabulation of votes.”
A disputed vote in Kyrgyzstan, the only country in the world that hosts Russian and U.S. military bases, threatens to reignite tensions following violence last year that’s marred its political landscape and threatened investment. A peaceful handover of presidential power from incumbent Roza Otunbayeva, who steps down in December, would mark the first such democratic transition in Central Asia.
‘Wave of Street Protests’
“Atambayev’s victory could trigger a wave of street protests, especially in the south -- Madumarov’s and Tashiyev’s political power base,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight. “Atambayev needs real political statesmanship to find a compromise with the strong nationalistic opposition.”
U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated the people of Kyrgyzstan for conducting a “democratic and peaceful’ election, saying in a statement that it demonstrated their ‘‘commitment to an orderly and open transition of power.’’
Growth in the country, wedged between China and Kazakhstan, may reach 7 percent in 2011, fueled by agricultural products including cotton and metals such as gold, the International Monetary Fund forecasts. About a third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program. One million migrant laborers work abroad.
A firmer political backdrop may help retain foreign investors such as Gold Fields Ltd., which said Oct. 13 it had halted plans to resume drilling at its Talas copper and gold project after horsemen attacked a mining camp and leaders at a nearby village were threatened with death if they cooperate with the company.
Kyrgyzstan faces a rift between its more developed north -- Atambayev’s political heartland -- and its rural south, the electoral base of Tashiyev and Madumarov. While the defeated candidates have urged the authorities to annul the vote and hold a new election, they have both stopped short of saying they will organize protests even as they warned that their supporters may still take to the streets.
Atambayev, who took over as prime minister heading a coalition government last October before stepping down to run for president, has vowed to cement the shift to parliamentary democracy, approved by voters in a referendum in June 2010 following the overthrow of Kurmanbek Bakiyev after protests that led to 99 deaths in Bishkek. Ethnic clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities followed in the south, killing 470.
‘Into the Past’
‘‘I am going to strive so that in a few years the problem of the division of the people of Kyrgyzstan and the danger of a split in the state moves definitively into the past,’’ Atambayev told reporters in Bishkek today. ‘‘I’m going to act in such a way that in Kyrgyzstan there will be no more grounds for revolutions; people are tired of them.’’
Tashiyev, a former emergencies minister under Bakiyev, threatened before the vote to take ‘‘millions’’ to the streets, calling the election a ‘‘disgrace,’’ and Madumarov, who served as security chief under the former president, questioned the validity of the elections before polls closed.
The Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a local non-governmental organization monitoring the vote, said the election had been largely transparent even as it reported violations including problems with voter lists, ballot dumping and voter intimidation.
The OSCE noted a ‘‘number of cases of ballot box stuffing, multiple and family voting, vote buying’’ and said the ‘‘situation deteriorated during counting and tabulation, with a significant number of polling stations assessed negatively,’’ according to a statement released in Bishkek today.
Washington is scrutinizing the election to ensure its agreement to use the Manas Transit Center to support operations in Afghanistan to 2014, when the drawdown of U.S. troops is scheduled for completion.
Russia, which maintains an airbase in the former Soviet republic, is also tracking the vote after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met Atambayev in Moscow this month. Russia is courting the former Soviet states to back Putin’s initiative to form a Eurasian Union, which Putin describes as an economic bridge between Europe and Asia.
Manas, the site of the U.S. logistics center, should revert to being a civilian airport, Atambayev said today.