Polls have opened in Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election that will test President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s political capital and his ability to forge new alliances amid vote-buying allegations and the worst economic crisis in two decades.
Jeenbekov’s supporters look likely to win a significant number of seats in the legislature in the Central Asian country, but the current pro-presidential ruling coalition is certain to be upset due to internal splits in the two major political groups and widespread voter discontent.
The campaign has been marred by allegations of vote-buying, and an August opinion poll ordered by the US-backed International Republican Institute showed that 15 percent of respondents favoured the idea of voting against all parties.
A total of 16 parties are contesting 120 seats in the single-chamber parliament.
If none of them wins more votes than the “Against all” option, a new election would have to be called.
Oorunbai Kalmurzaev, a farmer from the outskirts of Bishkek, said he was angry about mounting allegations of parties trying to buy votes in the run-up to the poll.
“People who sell their vote are selling their hope, selling their country, selling the memories of their ancestors and selling their future,” he told Al Jazeera.
The country of 6.5 million people has a history of political turmoil.
In the past 15 years, two presidents have been toppled by revolts and a third is in prison after falling out with his successor.
Further instability would be a concern to close ally Russia.
Moscow operates a military airbase in the former Soviet republic and is already dealing with major crises involving its allies Belarus and Armenia, as well as its own issues around the suspected poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
A woman casts a ballot at home during the parliamentary election in the village of Arashan, Kyrgyzstan [Reuters] SDPK split
The Social Democratic Party (SDPK), which dominated the previous election in 2015 and served as the core of the pro-president coalition, has split after a rift between Jeenbekov and his predecessor Almazbek Atambayev.
Respublika-Ata Zhurt, another major coalition member that, together with SDPK, won more than half of the seats in the previous election, has also split. Some of its MPs will seek re-election on a different party’s ticket.
Some of Jeenbekov’s closest allies, including his brother, are now running for parliament under the flag of the Birimdik (Unity) party. But that party’s leader, Marat Amankulov, faced a barrage of criticism last month over comments in which he called for closer integration with Russia.
Less than a week ahead of the vote, Jeenbekov travelled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, who assured him of Moscow’s support.
Emil Dzhuraev, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that although pro-government parties are favoured in the race, it is hard to be certain about the results.
“The likely outcome of the vote is tilting towards pro-government parties but then there’s always the possibility that even those half a million people or many among them are still able to vote independently when they enter the voting booth,” he said.
Results of the election are likely to be known on Sunday night or on Monday, but given the fractured nature of the parties, it could be days or weeks before a government is formed.