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article imageKyrgyzstan eyes peaceful power transfer after vote

By Tolkun NAMATBAYEVA (AFP)     Oct 16, 2017 in Politics

Kyrgyzstan's presidential challenger who lost a bitterly-fought election to former premier Sooronbai Jeenbekov, appeared Monday to accept the result, paving the way for an unprecedented peaceful transfer of power between two elected presidents.

Jeenbekov is to become Kyrgyzstan's fifth president after winning more than 54 percent of the vote in Sunday's election to replace outgoing leader Almazbek Atambayev.

The 58-year-old, who had been tapped as Atambayev's preferred successor, was running against 10 other candidates, but his main challenger was former oil trader Omurbek Babanov.

On Monday, Babanov -- a charismatic 47-year-old who leads Kyrgyzstan's second largest party in parliament -- appeared prepared to accept the result without challenge although he hinted they were flawed.

"I've never grabbed power and am not going to do that in the future," said Babanov, who won more than 33 percent of the vote.

"I will prove the rights of voters by lawful means only. Our victory is yet to come ...Time will tell who was right and who was wrong," he said, asking his supporters "not to respond to provocations."

While Kyrgyzstan is widely seen as the freest of the ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia, it has also been the most politically volatile in recent times.

The Muslim-majority country of six million people experienced two revolutions that unseated presidents in 2005 and 2010.

The subsequent ethnic violence pitting Kyrgyz people against minority Uzbeks left more than 400 people dead in 2010.

- 'Pressure on voters' -

Speaking to reporters, Babanov also criticised the use of "administrative resources" in the poll run-up -- including government officials using pressure to influence voters -- and said he would work to make elections fairer in the future.

"In these elections, I got a place which I was given," said Babanov, who had won a surprise endorsement from Nursultan Nazarbayev, the autocratic leader of neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Many feared he would contest the result, potentially sparking unrest in a country that hosts a Russian military base and looks to next-door China for loans and investment in infrastructure.

Ahead of the vote, one of Babanov's main supporters was arrested on suspicion of plotting a coup and both authorities and pro-government media appeared to target him in a vicious smear campaign.

Jeenbekov, who served as one of six prime ministers during Atambayev's time in office, thanked opponents for making the elections "competitive" during a speech at his campaign headquarters on Sunday night.

An international mission led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe described the election as "competitive" but said that "misuse of public resources, pressure on voters and vote-buying remain a concern."

The mission coordinator Azay Guliyev said that electoral officials "in some cases favoured certain candidates which…negatively affected Central Election Commission's impartiality."

- 'Very few reforms' -

With results from 98 percent of the polling stations counted, the Central Election Commission on Monday put turnout at just under 56 percent.

Dinara Oshurahonova, a long-time activist and political observers, said locals were "naively mistaken" in thinking that violations on the key day would be minimal.

"Authorities used all their administrative leverage and even criminal ties to influence the vote," Oshurahonova said.

"We cannot expect reforms from Jeenbekov because he repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he would continue the course pursued by Atambayev," she said. "We saw very few reforms under Atambayev."

The country has been strongly pro-Moscow.

Atambayev cancelled a lease on a US airbase in Kyrgyzstan in 2014 and has recently raised the prospect of Russia acquiring a second military base.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Jeenbekov congratulating him on his victory.

Just over three million Kyrgyz nationals were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.

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