Kyrgyzstan's former prime minister, Almazbek Atambaev, is poised to become president after winning by a sizable margin in the October 30 election.
There were doubts that Atambaev could clear the 50-percent hurdle needed to claim an outright victory and prevent the country from heading into a combative second round.
But in the end, he appeared to succeed handily, winning more than 63 percent of the vote according to preliminary figures.
Central Election Commission Chairman Tuigunaly Abdraimov declared Atambaev "winner of the elections" at a press conference in the capital, Bishkek, earlier in the day. He said Atambaev had received 1,119,076 votes, or is 62.8 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.
The election marked the first presidential vote since Kurmanbek Bakiev was toppled during massive public protests in April 2010, leaving Roza Otunbaeva atop an internationally recognized interim administration. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has endured deadly ethnic clashes in its fractious south, as well as a shaky transition to a parliamentary political system -- the first of its kind in Central Asia.
Speaking to reporters the day after the voting, Atambaev said he would jail those responsible for stirring ethnic and regional divisions and said politics should be characterized by dialogue, not conflict, in order to create a new era of peace in Kyrgyzstan.
"I want us from now on to get used to negotiating, like they do it in Europe," Atambaev said. "We need to solve all the issues peacefully, through negotiations, so that we do not have revolutions anymore, so that we have a peaceful and calm country."
The vote was conducted without major incidents of violence or protests. But numerous procedural flaws were reported.
Most notably, hundreds of registered voters -- including the son of the outgoing interim President Otunbaeva -- complained their names had failed to turn up on voter rolls.
But election officials said the errors were not enough to substantially affect the outcome of the vote.
International monitors from both the CIS and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave the election their approval but acknowledged flaws and called on Kyrgyzstan to improve the integrity of future votes. Among other things, a report by the OSCE's monitoring group noted cases of ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, and vote-buying.
Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the head of the OSCE observations mission, said the body was "cautiously optimistic"
about the future of democracy in Kyrgyzstan, but said "significant work is still needed at all levels for this country to live up to its commitments to hold democratic elections."
The sharp assessment appears to be a step back for Kyrgyzstan after the country was given a solid assessment following parliamentary elections last year.
Jens-Hagen Eschenbacher, a spokesman for the OSCE's observation arm ODIHR, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the country had made much-needed reforms to its voter registration system but said many problems remained.
"Unfortunately, it apparently was not possible to really come up with voter lists that are inclusive, that include all those who have the right to vote," Eschenbacher said. "A significant number of voters could not find their names on the list and therefore were not able to cast their ballots."
Despite the flaws, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the vote.
“In casting their ballots, the Kyrgyz people have taken an important and courageous step on the path of democracy and demonstrated their commitment to an orderly and open transition of power,” he said in a statement.
A statement from the spokesperson of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended the peaceful nature of the election called on “all political forces to work together to ensure the stable post-electoral development of the country.”
The vote, which saw a healthy 60-percent turnout and a broad field of 16 candidates, looks like it will exclude a second round, a scenario that would presumably have pitted Atambaev, a moderate from the country's north, against two nationalist candidates from the south.
Those candidates -- former parliament speaker Adakhan Madumarov and Kamchybek Tashiev, the head of the Ata-Jurt parliamentary faction -- were considered Atambaev's main competitors, but took just 14 percent of the vote apiece.
Neither man has conceded defeat, and both have threatened that dissatisfaction with the vote could lead to a fresh wave of public protests -- a deeply unsettling notion in a country that is still recovering from last year's unrest.
Part of their complaints rest on lower-than-expected turnout in their support base in the south. The southern regions of Osh and Jalal-Abad saw the lowest turnout in the country. Some attributed the statistic to a steady outflow of labor migrants and frightened Uzbeks during the past year; others, however, claimed the drop was part of an organized attempt to strike supporters of Tashiev and Madumarov from voter rolls.
'Not Considered Legitimate'
Madumarov on October 30 led a group of opposition candidates in declaring the results invalid even before polls had closed, saying many voters had been left off voter lists.
Today he called for the vote to be annulled and for the establishment of a commission to investigate.
Tashiev, a trained boxer seen as maintaining close ties with disgraced ex-President Bakiev, echoed the complaint, claiming as many as 1.2 million voters were deliberately struck from voter lists.
Bakiev, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Belarus since he fled in April 2010, weighed in on Twitter, saying the results "could not be considered legitimate."
Protests by Tashiev and Madumarov supporters were reported in the southern Jalal-Abad region. RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service reports that some 1,000 Tashiev supporters blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway there today.
Some observers have suggested that Atambaev, who is set to serve a single six-year term, may be prepared to offer his rivals political posts in return for a peaceful transfer of power.
The election was being watched closely by both Russia and the United States, who both maintain military bases in the mountainous Central Asian nation and are wary of a repeat of last year's violence.
Atambaev told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service today that the he would prefer the U.S. military transit center at Manas, near Bishkek, to be "not a military, but a civilian airport."
Washington currently uses the base to provide logistical support to NATO forces in Afghanistan, but the agreement expires next year.
Atambaev, who temporarily stepped down from his prime ministerial post last month to run for president, is considered more closely allied with Moscow than the other candidates, and is likely to bring his country into a number of trade and security pacts with Russia.
He has also vowed to preserve his country's parliamentary system of government, a standout in a region dominated by entrenched autocrats.
written by Daisy Sindelar, with contributions from RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and agency reports