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Kyrgyzstan vote surprises world

world Updated: Oct 13, 2010 00:54 IST

When Kyrgyzstan counted the votes in a parliamentary election Monday, the strong showing of a nationalist party was only one surprise. The bigger surprise was that the results were not a foregone conclusion, making this small, mostly Muslim nation the first in Central Asia to hold free elections in pursuit of a democratic system.

“These elections were very successful because they took place at all,” said Alexey Malashenko, a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Kyrgyzstan showed it is an exception in Central Asia. Despite many predictions to the contrary, the elections were held. There was more than 50 per cent turnout.”

Serious obstacles still lie ahead as the country that ousted its last president in a coup creates a coalition government and selects a prime minister. And much is at stake in the land-locked country of 5 million people.

The surprise in the election Sunday was the 8.6 per cent share won by a nationalist party called Ata-Zhurt, a powerful force in the rural southern part of the country, which has been beset by ethnic and political violence.

This parliamentary system was approved in a referendum in June and is a first for Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has had two coups in the past five years. Askar Akayev, who was president for 15 years, was forced out in 2005. Earlier this year, his successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was ousted after rioting in the streets. In June, political and ethnic violence erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south, killing 400 people and forcing as many as 400,000 from their homes.

The interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, has been a proponent of a parliamentary system that was presented as a way to give voice and legislative power to disparate groups. It also was seen as a way to bring peace and common purpose to this land, where the mountains divide north and south into two almost separate countries.

(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content, visit www.washingtonpost.com)