Kyrgyzstan on Sunday votes in a landmark parliamentary election that has seen Russia and the United States back rival forces.
The vote marks the transformation of Kyrgyzstan from a presidential to a parliamentary republic. The constitutional reform was undertaken in the wake of a bloody uprising in April that ousted a corruption-tainted government and large-scale inter-ethnic violence that killed hundreds of people in the country's southern provinces in June. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, who pushed through the reform, hopes parliamentary rule will help bring stability to Kyrgyzstan, shaken by two violent coups over the past five years.
The U.S. signalled strong support for Kyrgyzstan's shift to a parliamentary democracy when President Barack Obama met Ms. Otunbayeva in New York last month.
Russia, by contrast, denounced the reform as ruinous. President Dmitry Medvedev warned of an impending “catastrophe,” saying Kyrgyzstan needed a strong hand to prevent a downslide to extremist rule.
Moscow has openly backed the opposition Ar-Namys or Dignity Party. Its leader, former Prime Minister and Soviet-era KGB general Felix Kulov has vowed to reverse the constitutional reform if his party wins a majority. Mr. Medvedev received Mr. Kulov in the run-up to the Kyrgyz election, and Russia's ruling United Russia Party signed a cooperation agreement with Ar-Namys. The Kremlin's support has boosted Mr. Kulov's popularity in the country where Russian television is the most popular media. However, he faces strong opposition from a couple of pro-Otunbayeva parties. About six parties in the field of 29 contestants are expected to pass the five per cent threshold to win seats in the 120-member single chamber Parliament. Opinion polls suggest there may be no clear winner.
Keywords: Kyrgyz elections