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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyz Candidate Condemns Vote as Fraudulent

ReutersAn illegal Kyrgyz migrant worker getting out of a police vehicle at a polling station in Krasnoyarsk on Thursday.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyzstan’s main opposition candidate demanded Thursday that a presidential election be declared illegal as voting was under way, denouncing what he called voter fraud and calling for street protests and a rerun.

Kyrgyz police earlier fired in the air and used batons to break up an opposition rally in a small provincial town in the country, home to U.S. and Russian military bases.

The abrupt turn of events in Kyrgyzstan will be of concern to the United States, which uses it as a transit point for its troops fighting in nearby Afghanistan.

Incumbent Kurmanbek Bakiyev, accused by critics of cracking down on opposition, is certain to win the vote. An exit poll published by RIA-Novosti late Thursday showed him with 67 percent of the vote, compared to 12.7 percent for Almazbek Atambayev, the main opposition challenger. The other four candidates won between 1 percent and 6 percent.

Authorities said they had done their utmost to make the poll fair and the election was valid, but the opposition cried foul.

“We demand this election be declared illegal,” Atambayev told reporters. “This means that we refuse to take part in this election and legitimize President Bakiyev.”

Misha Japaridze / AP
President Bakiyev, voting with his wife, Tatyana, in Bishkek on Thursday.

The opposition later issued a statement saying Atambayev could not in fact withdraw from the race for technical reasons. Under election rules, candidates can only bow out by notifying the central election commission three days in advance. But it said it had withdrawn its observers from all polling stations and would hold mass rallies in the capital, Bishkek, to express its discontent. Bishkek was the scene of violent protests in 2005 that toppled Bakiyev’s predecessor.

Speaking alongside Atambayev, another candidate, Jenishbek Nazaraliyev, said he had quit the race. The commission had not received any notification, media said.

Nazaraliyev, a drug rehab doctor, gained attention in 2005 when protesters used his clinic as the starting point of their march on state headquarters.

Atambayev’s party said its observers had uncovered irregularities such as absentee ballot fraud. It said a number of its observers had been harassed at various polling stations.

The election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it was closely watching the vote.

“If there are complaints with regard to fraud or manipulation, we will observe how these complaints are being handled by [authorities],” said Janez Lenarcic, head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Damir Lisovsky, head of the central election commission, said the vote was still valid after more than 60 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s 2.7 million eligible voters had cast their ballots.

Analysts said there was no doubt Bakiyev would stay in power. “There was already a 99 percent chance the president would win anyway, so it should not change things too much for investors,” said Joanna Gorska, deputy head of the Eurasia desk for Exclusive Analysis.

Speaking separately, Bakiyev ruled out running for a third five-year term if re-elected on Thursday, according to the BBC’s monitoring service, which quoted national television.

Security was tight across Kyrgyzstan on Election Day, with 5,000 officers on high alert and extra measures enforced in potentially restive border areas in the Ferghana Valley. A spokesman for Atambayev said 1,000 people had gathered in the town of Balykchi to protest the conduct of the vote. “They had gathered to express their discontent with this lawlessness,” he said, adding that shots were fired in the air as riot police used force to disperse the crowd.

A local official confirmed the incident and said no one was injured.

In Russia, home to up to a million Kyrgyz citizens, hundreds of voters lined up in a polling station in Krasnoyarsk. Detained migrants, who were caught working illegally, were given special permission to vote in a hall decked with Kyrgyz flags.

Bakiyev, speaking at a polling station in Bishkek, promised to maintain balance in his relations with Russia and the United States if re-elected. “We will cooperate with all parties and build relations based on mutual respect, trust and benefit,” he told reporters, describing relations with Russia as strategic. “This does not mean we will not cooperate with Europe and the United States.”