Rivals in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election traded accusations of wrongdoing even as polling was underway on October 15, while authorities warned ominously of possible post-vote violence.
Among the dozen or so candidates in the running, only two are viewed as having any chance of winning the presidency. One is Sooronbai Jeenbekov, 58, the nominee of the ruling Social Democratic Party, who has been a substantial leg-up by positive coverage in state media. But Jeenbekov has been massively outspent by a fellow former prime minister, the 47-year old multimillionaire Omurbek Babanov.
Babanov was the first among the higher-profile candidates to visit the polling station and he struck a largely positive and optimistic tone after voting.
“I have voted for change, so that people could live better and would start returning to their motherland. I am fully confident, because I met with people [during campaigning] and saw the results of public surveys,” he said.
Jeenbekov was characteristically lacking in animation in his remarks to journalists, speaking so quietly that some in the huddle were unable to hear him.
“God willing, if the people support us, we will win. Whether it is in the first or second round will be decided by the results,” he said.
If neither candidate manages to get past the 50 percent threshold, there will have to be a second, head-to-head round of voting, to be held no earlier than two weeks after the results of the first round are announced. With no reliable polling available, few have been willing to hazard a prediction on the anticipated outcome.
Jeenbekov argued the competition for the presidency had been fair, but accused his opponents of trying to sow tensions.
“These provocations that were planned, our campaign has spoken about them, all violations are being investigated, he said.
The strongest sourness was injected into the day by outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, who devoted much of his remarks to the press after casting his ballot to vitriolic onslaughts against his perceived opponents, including Kazakhstan’s government, sections of the media and his political rivals.
“We have arrested people, and we will arrest more people,” Atambayev said, referring to still-unsubstantiated allegations of plots to seize power through force.
Even before polls opened at 8 am local time, the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, announced it was investigating an alleged plot to cause violent unrest in the event of one of the candidates losing. The GKNB said in a statement that it had identified Kazybek Shaiymbetov, a former member of parliament who had made his own short-lived bid for the presidency, as a ringleader.
Shaiymbetov “made preparations to initiate a conspiracy with people planning to take active part in mass unrest during and after the election in the event of one of the candidates losing,” the statement said. “With the aim of following through on his criminal intent, Shaiymbetov and his associates have in recent days been in search of weapons and ammunition.”
Similar plot allegations have refrained from specifying which candidate was being alluded to, but Babanov and his supporters have interpreted these investigations as transparent attempts to undermine their campaign by implication.
“I and my team will not be involved in any acts of provocation,” Babanov said in an impromptu press conference on the afternoon of the vote. “We will not seize the White House, nor anything else.”
Independent observers reported on instances of violations, although such cases appeared as of the afternoon of the vote to be relatively isolated.
Central Election Commission chairwoman Nurjan Shaildabekova said after lunchtime that the election was going quietly and that there was no indication of mass fraud.
“In some polling stations our commission has identified incidents that will be further investigated by law enforcement authorities,” Shaildabekova said.
But Shaildabekova added that she gave little credibility to some reports being circulated by sections of the media.
“There is a feeling that somebody is trying to whip up the situation, talking about supposed mass violations.”
Nationwide turnout had reached 40 percent by 5 pm, with the strongest numbers in absolute terms being registered in the Osh region, where Jeenbekov is expected to outperform his competitors.
Polling station were due to close at 8 pm and preliminary results are expected around midnight.