Nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov yesterday appeared poised to win Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, a snap vote triggered by the collapse of the previous government in the Central Asian nation closely allied with Russia.
Violent protests that erupted in October last year sprung Japarov, 52, from a prison cell to the prime minister’s chair and culminated in him assuming the interim presidency, although he later gave it up to run for a full-time role.
Japarov, who had been sentenced to a lengthy prison term for kidnapping a provincial governor as part of a protest, had his verdict quashed amid the October unrest and has outspent his 16 competitors by a wide margin during the campaign.
Despite his nationalist stance — Japarov’s first act as prime minister was to add ethnicity information to national ID cards — he has repeatedly pledged to maintain a close relationship with Moscow.
“Russia is our strategic partner,” Japarov said after casting his ballot in a suburb of the capital, Bishkek.
Russia operates a military airbase in the mountainous nation and is also the main destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant workers.
Neighboring China is another key trade partner and investor in the impoverished and predominantly Muslim nation, which, in addition to electing a president, yesterday voted on whether to give greater presidential powers at parliament’s expense.
Japarov’s prison sentence stems from his campaign in the early 2010s to nationalize the giant Kumtor gold mine operated by Canada’s Centerra Gold.
However, after coming to power last year, he said that was no longer a goal and he would only seek to ensure that profits from the mine are split fairly.
Japarov’s campaign, which combined references to traditional symbols and values with promises such as doubling healthcare spending, appears to have struck a chord with voters across the country, especially in rural areas.
According to local pollsters, he enjoyed a comfortable lead over competitors and could potentially win more than 50 percent of the vote, thus avoiding a runoff.
At the polling station, Japarov declined to speculate about the outcome of the vote, but urged all groups to accept it to preserve stability.
Kyrgyzstan has a history of political volatility. Before toppling the government of then-Kyrgyz president Sooronbai Jeenbekov in October, similar violent protests deposed presidents in 2010 and 2005. Another former head of state, Almazbek Atambayev, is under arrest on corruption charges.
“I voted against everyone, because it makes no difference for ordinary people who is in charge, everyone lies to us,” said Bakyt, a 52-year-old power engineer who only gave his first name.
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