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Social Democrats Leading In Closely Watched Kyrgyz Vote

  • RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

Osh voters crowd outside a polling station to cast their ballots after problems with the electronic voting caused backups.

Osh voters crowd outside a polling station to cast their ballots after problems with the electronic voting caused backups.

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan’s Social Democrats (SDPK) are leading in the country's October 4 parliamentary poll with 27.5 percent of the vote after 90 percent of the ballots have been counted.

The opposition Respublika Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) party is in second place with 20 percent of the vote.

Six political parties have passed the threshold to enter the 120-member legislature, known as the Supreme Council.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) showed the Kyrgyzstan party with 12.75 percent, Onuguu-Progress with 9.3 percent, Bir Bol (Unity) with 8.4 percent, and Ata-Meken (Fatherland) with around 7.76 percent.

According to the CEC, 60 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the elections.

The official preliminary results will be announced at 11 a.m. local time on October 5.

"This is a big surprise that six parties are going to get in," RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier said from Bishkek about the preliminary results. "There was a thought that certainly one or two of the new parties might get in, but it is kind of unexpected that while the two top parties on the list are parties that are currently in the government, it is surprising that Ata-Meken (Fatherland), which is also in the government, has done so poorly."

The vote is being seen as a key test for the budding democracy of 6 million people.

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service reported long lines outside some polling stations, with many voters saying they had to wait two to three hours before they could cast their ballots.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev casts his ballot at a polling station in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev casts his ballot at a polling station in Bishkek.

Nearly 2.7 million voters were registered to vote after receiving biometric ID cards -- a first for Central Asia – which, with the help of a scanner, were used to identify each voter by his or her fingerprint in a bid to stamp out voter fraud.

Deputy Prime Minister Taiyrbek Sarpashev said on October 4 that 3 to 5 percent of voters have faced “technical problems" with the new system.

The CEC reported earlier that automatic ballot boxes didn't work in 52 out of the country’s 2,374 polling stations.

The Interior Ministry said there were some complaints about parties trying to buy votes, adding that authorities would investigate such allegations.

RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service received reports of voting fraud by hundreds of students led by their university teachers.

The coalition For Democracy and Civil Society observed the election process in some 500 polling stations throughout the country.

Its leader, Dinara Oshurahunova, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that the organization had not received reports about “very serious irregularities.”

In one polling station in Naryn, she said, there was no official stamp on the ballots. And in Jalal-Abad, one woman was caught with a bunch of IDs belonging to students.

Election workers stand by in Bishkek as voters cast their ballots using the new biometric ID system and automatic ballot boxes.

Election workers stand by in Bishkek as voters cast their ballots using the new biometric ID system and automatic ballot boxes.

Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, President Almazbek Atambaev urged voters "to choose stability" in Kyrgyzstan's third democratic election since a 2010 revolution that ousted its authoritarian leader.

"For me, it's important to have a solid footing in parliament. I hope today the Social Democrats will get more than 26 seats," he said, referring to the party's result in the 2010 election.

Atambaev also said Kyrgyz authorities would “arrest and use force against anyone” who protests the elections.

The Prosecutor-General's Office took steps to dissuade fraud by announcing last week that anyone found guilty of attempting to bribe voters will be fined and could be punished by up to two years in prison.

Presidential Bump

Atambaev -- who under Kyrgyz law had to drop out of the SDPK when he was elected president -- had been criticized ahead of the vote for making public appearances and speaking engagements seen as campaigning for his former party.

The party, likewise, has placed its billboards around the country announcing: "Think about your country, let's support the president. The Social Democratic Party."

The link between Atambaev and the Social Democrats led some analysts to tip the party as likely to do well in the elections.

Several rights activists and NGOs have complained to the Central Election Commission about the connections between the president and the party.

A voter in Bishkek casts his ballot into one of the new automatic ballot boxes.

A voter in Bishkek casts his ballot into one of the new automatic ballot boxes.

There were also media reports about local officials attempting to force teachers, doctors, students, and government workers to vote for the Social Democrats.

Atambaev said Kyrgyzstan had "already gone through two 'Arab Springs'" with the 2005 and 2010 revolutions in the country that ousted authoritarian leaders.

These parliamentary elections will be the third democratic elections since Kurmanbek Bakiev was forced by demonstrators to flee the presidential office five years ago.

The previous two votes in Kyrgyzstan -- parliamentary elections in 2010 and a presidential election the following year -- were deemed free and fair by international monitoring groups, something that has not occurred in any other Central Asian country.

That recent history puts pressure on Kyrgyzstan to continue along a democratic path, and a multitude of observers -- both international and local -- were watching the elections closely.

Pro-Russian Parties

All of the main parties in the elections hold pro-Russian positions, mirroring the recent shift by Atambaev and his government toward Moscow and away from the United States that began with the closure of the U.S.-run Manas Air Base in 2014.

This trend was highlighted earlier this year by Kyrgyzstan's entry into the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and Bishkek's rescinding of its intergovernmental cooperation agreement with the United States that was first signed in 1993.

Such actions have been accompanied by noticeably anti-American comments from Atambaev.

With the majority of Kyrgyz political parties generally supporting the same policies, the lack of clashing positions on certain issues made it hard for voters to differentiate between many of the parties.

That is a key reason why analysts say was difficult to predict which parties would come out on top.

That fact alone makes Kyrgyzstan stand out in its neighborhood, where elections in other countries are a nonevent and the eventual winners are known well in advance of election day.

With contributions from RFE/RL correspondent Pete Baumgartner
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