Photographer: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP via Getty Images

Jeenbekov Wins Kyrgyzstan’s Presidential Election

Updated on
  • Ex-premier gained 54% of votes cast, election commission says
  • Opposition leader wins 33%, warns against ‘provocations’

Former Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, according to preliminary official data, as his defeated rival called for unity in the central Asian republic that’s been roiled by political violence in the past.

Sooronbai Jeenbekov casts his ballot on Oct. 15.

Photographer: Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP via Getty Images

Jeenbekov, who’s backed by outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev’s Social Democratic party, received 54.3 percent of the about 1.7 million votes cast, making a run-off unnecessary, the central election commission reported Monday. Businessman Omurbek Babanov, who heads the opposition Respublika party, was second with 33.4 percent. Turnout was 56 percent of 3 million eligible voters.

“Elections were held, one candidate got more votes than anyone else and that means he won,” Babanov said at his campaign headquarters in the capital, Bishkek, as he urged supporters “not to succumb to provocations.” Kyrgyzstan “needs stability” and the new president’s first task should be to unite people in the country “regardless of whom they supported,” he said.

The election involving 13 candidates was seen as a genuine contest for power in a region dominated by dictators ruling for decades. Rich in gold and other minerals, and host to a strategic Russian military base, Kyrgyzstan has had a turbulent history since independence in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first Kyrgyz president, Askar Akayev, was overthrown in the 2005 “Tulip Revolution.” His successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, fled into exile in 2010, when rioters stormed the presidential palace amid corruption allegations.

Kyrgyzstan’s Roza Otunbayeva then became central Asia’s first female head of state when she led an interim administration that drew up a new constitution limiting presidents to a single term, before stepping down ahead of 2011 elections won by Atambayev. He took Kyrgyzstan into the Russian-led Eurasian Union in 2015, a year after closing a U.S. military base used to support operations in Afghanistan since 2001.

Jeenbekov’s election will mark the first democratic transfer of power in Kyrgyzstan, a country of 6.1 million people. Autocrats have retained power in nearby Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

“Kyrgyzstan has demonstrated a generally positive example for holding competitive elections and a peaceful transfer of power,” Azay Guliyev, leader of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s election-monitoring mission, said in a statement Monday. While candidates generally campaigned freely, “cases of the misuse of public resources, pressure on voters and vote buying remain a concern,” according to the OSCE’s statement.

The election comes after Kyrgyzstan voted in a referendum last year to change its constitution and shift powers from the president to the prime minister and government, which is dominated by Atambayev’s party. He’s denied opposition accusations that he plans to continue ruling the country as prime minister when his term ends.

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