Voters in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan took to the polls yesterday for a parliamentary election that the authorities say will bring much-needed stability, but which the opposition has already criticized.
Twelve political parties were taking part in the race for the 90 seats in the parliament, with Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's newly-created Ak-Zhol party the firm favorite to win the vote.
"I am certain the new parliament will be better than the last," Bakiyev told reporters. "I congratulate all Kyrgyz on this great occasion .... It is an historic day."
The early elections were called by Bakiyev as this impoverished former Soviet republic located on China's western edge continues to experience aftershocks from a 2005 popular uprising.
Opposition forces have denounced pressure from the authorities, including two opposition leaders being kept off the ballot and a lawsuit launched against one of the main opposition parties.
Several opposition activists have also been beaten during the campaign.
Yesterday's vote was necessitated by constitutional changes approved in October that were supposed to ease relations between Bakiyev and his detractors in parliament by increasing the powers of the legislature.
"These elections are a chance to calm the Kyrgyz political process ... Since 2005 Bakiyev has found himself overseeing a serious battle between the elites," said analyst Sergei Masaulov of the Perspective research center.
Some voters, like 59-year-old professor Piotr Sivosin, were ready to support Bakiyev's party in the hope it will end the political turmoil.
"Me, I'm for Ak-Zhol, for Bakiyev's party controlling the parliament. Then the situation will calm down and the government will begin to work on the economy," he said at a Bishkek polling station. "I'm fed up with the instability, the elections and demonstrations."
But 42-year-old taxi driver Zanir Sidikov was unhappy at how the election campaign had unfolded.
"The president's Ak-Zhol party irritates me in how it is forcing people to for him, and in the spirit of contradiction, I'm going to vote for the opposition," he said.
While this mountainous state lies far from the rich world, major powers have an interest in the country's course as Kyrgyzstan is a vital link in a wider struggle for influence in mainly Muslim, resource-rich Central Asia.
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