Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev has announced his intention to seek reelection when the country next holds a presidential election.
The announcement, coming as his political opponents are calling for his resignation, raises questions about when such an election might take place and its potential for sparking mass protests in the coming months.
Bakiev chose to declare his candidacy at a press conference ostensibly called to address a range of issues, including the country's economic problems, as well as foreign policy.
"First of all, I will run [for a second presidential term] because I have that right in accordance with the constitution. I have to invoke my rights," Bakiev said.
"Secondly, this is my fourth year [in office]. If my job had not produced good results; if there was no positive outcome; if there wasn't political stability; if there was a negative outcome; then we would think, 'Something is wrong. Maybe I should leave [office].' Consider the year 2008. The year was a period of total stability, political stability," Bakiev added.
That Bakiev intends to run for a second term is not surprising. But the timing of his announcement is sure to catch the attention of many in Kyrgyzstan, particularly his political opponents.
Bakiev was elected to a five-year term in July 2005, so the assumption would be that presidential elections would next be held in July 2010, some 17 months from now. However, the date is not officially set, and Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court has the right to review when they should be held.
Traditionally, Kyrgyzstan's presidential elections are held in late October, but the election Bakiev won was an early election, called after mass demonstrations in March 2005 chased former President Askar Akaev from office.
Since then, the country has adopted a new constitution. The Constitutional Court could therefore rule that fresh presidential elections are needed, considering that the country is operating under a different constitution than the one in force when Bakiev won the last election.
Isa Omurkulov, a lawmaker from the opposition Social Democratic Party, has said the next presidential election should rightfully be held in the fall of 2009, in accordance with the constitution that was in place when Bakiev was elected.
'I Will Obey'
Bakiev was evasive when questioned about the date of the next election during today's press conference.
It depends on the Constitutional Court's decision. If it decides that it should be held this year, I will obey and will stand in the election this year.
"According to data I have, the presidential election is to be held in 2010," Bakiev said, before adding: "It depends on the Constitutional Court's decision. If it decides that it should be held this year, I will obey and will stand in the election this year."
A further argument for an election this year would be that Bakiev's term in office to date has been marked by a series of crises and a number of demonstrations. Many people in Kyrgyzstan are dissatisfied with the country's continuing dire economic situation and chronic energy shortages, especially during winter.
There is also the feeling among some that Bakiev has simply replaced Akaev's corrupt cronies with his own, including several family members installed in state posts.
Opposition groups, who have protested the recent arrests of Bakiev's opponent, may see opportunity in citizens' impatience with the country's ongoing economic difficulties and energy shortages. They are vowing to stage numerous and frequent demonstrations when spring arrives.
Earlier this month, Bakiev secured a promise from Russia for aid and loans totaling some $2 billion. However, it is unclear when that money will arrive or which sectors, other than hydropower projects, it will target.
Bakiev may see advantages in holding a presidential poll this year, while optimism is still high.
Waiting until next year runs the risk that Russia will have been unable to deliver on its financial promises as quickly as hoped, or that the money will have been directed toward projects and programs that will have made no discernible improvement in the standard of living of ordinary Kyrgyz.RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service director Tynchtykbek Tchoroev contributed to this report.