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Monitors give Kyrgyz election thumbs up

Bakiyev won a landslide victory in the presidential vote on Sunday

(Keystone)

The Kyrgyzstan presidential election, which was won overwhelmingly by acting leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was democratic, according to a Swiss observer.

Heinz Rudolf von Rohr said international monitors had found the poll "much better" than previous elections but he warned that the new president needed to reestablish trust in the government.

Bakiyev scored a landslide victory on Sunday winning 89 per cent of the vote. He was appointed acting president following the downfall of former leader Askar Akayev earlier this year.

Akayev, who ruled the former Soviet republic for almost 15 years, fled to Russia in March after violent protests sparked by disputed parliamentary elections and the slow pace of economic reforms.

Von Rohr was one of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers in Kyrgyzstan for the July 10 elections. In all, 11 monitors were sent by Switzerland.

The Swiss have been giving aid to the country for more than ten years and also represent the republic at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Positive

"All the international observers said that this election was much better than the parliamentary elections in February and March," von Rohr told swissinfo. "This vote was quite in accordance with the democratic criteria for elections."

In a statement on Monday, the OSCE noted that "tangible progress" had been made, but that there had been some problems with the vote count, including a small number of "serious irregularities".

But it also concluded that there were almost no apparent obstacles to campaigning and hardly any abuse of administrative resources.

Voter turnout was nearly 75 per cent, well above the 50 per cent needed to validate the poll.

Popularity

Von Rohr said that Bakiyev’s personal popularity was the main reason for his decisive win. The former prime minister, who served under Akayev but stepped down after the armed suppression of an opposition rally in 2002, was a key figure during the protests.

"For most of the Kyrgyz people he is quite a hero because he was the strongest opposition against Akayev in the March revolution," added von Rohr.

Analysts say Bakiyev’s success was also helped by a pact made with his rival, Felix Kulov, another former prime minister who is expected to return to the job in the new government.

Bakiyev said on Monday his landslide win "could without exaggeration be called a confident victory of our people's revolution". He has promised to fight corruption and to reduce the power of the presidency.

However, Bakiyev also struck a worrying note for Washington, saying that the presence of a United States base in Kyrgyzstan should be reconsidered.

Challenges

Von Rohr says that the new president of the small former Soviet republic will face many challenges.

"First he has to bring back trust into politics and government because recently the government has lost a lot of trust," he said.

This included stamping out the last vestiges of old-style ex-Soviet thinking in the administration.

Two other problems, says the Swiss, are the need to unite a country that remains culturally divided between the north and south, and high unemployment among young people.

Swiss view

The election result was likely to be welcomed by Switzerland, said von Rohr. The country currently gives SFr19 million ($15.2 million) a year in aid to Kyrgyzstan, which has been designated a priority country.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the government’s aid agency, has an office in the capital, Bishkek, and around 15 projects are underway in the republic.

"Switzerland is an important donor for development money and is also involved in institution building in Kyrgyzstan," said von Rohr.

"As Kyrgyzstan becomes more democratic it becomes easier to give money to help develop the democratic system."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

The OSCE sent 340 observers from 45 countries to Kyrgyzstan.
Observers visited nearly 1,300 polling stations.
There were 11 Swiss observers.

end of infobox

In brief

Kyrgyzstan, an ex-Soviet republic, has a population of five million people.

Its average GNP per inhabitant is $317, with 50 per cent of people living under the poverty line.

Presidential elections were held on July 10 following the overthrow of former leader Askar Akayev earlier this year.

The poll was won convincingly – 89 per cent - by acting leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

end of infobox


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