Moscow (dpa) – Voters are expected to turn out Sunday for the second parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan since 2010, when autocrat Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled from power, paving the way for the country to become the first parliamentary democracy in the region.
The anti-government protests that spelled the end of Bakiyev’s rule as president paved the way for the country to adopt a new democratic constitution.
However, the weak state of the opposition means that power is likely to remain with President Almazbek Atambayev, who took office in 2011 and whose Social Democratic Party leads a three-party coalition government.
Fourteen parties are vying for spots in the 120-seat parliament, the Supreme Council. Members are selected by party lists based on proportional representation and serve five-year terms.
With an economy dependent on mining, animal husbandry, subsistence agriculture and foreign aid, impoverished Kyrgyzstan is far from stable.
Ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks left hundreds dead after the ouster of Bakiyev in 2010. Some 17,000 troops will protect election sites on Sunday.
The landlocked and mountainous country is also divided geographically: A pro-Russia, urban elite has taken hold in the north, while an Islamic culture defined by the bazaar culture is firmly embedded in the mostly rural south.
Russia continues to exert a strong influence in the former Soviet republic. Analysts say the Kremlin pressured Atambayev in 2014 to end an agreement with Washington that allowed US troops access its base, which served as a supply hub for troops in Afghanistan.
Russia has expanded its troop presence in Kyrgyzstan in the meantime.
Kyrgyzstan said it will join the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which Moscow has touted as a rival political vehicle to the European Union.
The country’s culture of strong family and clan ties tends to encourage nepotism and corruption and remains a significant hurdle in the country’s progress toward democracy.
For the first time, fingerprint scanners will be used to identify the 2.6 million eligible voters. Ballots will scanned to provide an automatic vote count.