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8 Oct, 2010 02:35

Kyrgyzstan elects parliament after violence

After six months of political turbulence and violence, the people of Kyrgyzstan are casting their ballots to choose a parliament that will rule the country.

The vote is intended to create Central Asia’s first parliamentary state, while also curbing the president's power.

Further, it is hoped to bring coveted stability to a region that has suffered from deadly political and ethnic violence in recent months.

Second-largest city braces for election violence

Burned down shops and houses. Abandoned cafes. Broken windows.

Political billboards alongside piles of debris on the streets. In Osh, the country’s second largest city, the need for change is obvious.

“We need a decent government which is able to restore peace and stability and will stop people from leaving,” said one of Osh’s residents.

“Stability and getting the economy to start working – that’s what we need,” another said.

Eighty-two polling stations have been set up across the city and the election is being observed by monitors from the OSCE, Russia and the CIS.

The number of competing political parties has set Kyrgyzstan’s all-time record – twenty-nine.

The country’s interim President, Rosa Otumbayeva, is pushing to build a parliamentary republic, where the head of state is more a ceremonial figure than one who holds power.

However several parties are against this idea, including one headed by former Prime Minister Felix Kulov.

Each party has to pass the five percent mark in order to gain seats in parliament.

“After what happened, this election is not just a political choice, it’s a chance to reunite two peoples, to build a new country,” said Dzhamshit Mamytov, head of the city election committee.

The majority of the population in Osh are Kyrgyz, while around one-third are Uzbek nationals.

In June, the two groups clashed in a massive outburst of violence which included armed gangs destroying shops and setting houses ablaze.

According to the most modest figures – hundreds of people were killed and several thousand injured.

The havoc lasted several days, until the interim government regained control. However, by that time most Uzbek-populated districts had been almost completely destroyed. Many citizens lost everything and, even now, are forced to survive without a roof over their heads.

“My house was burned down,” one of the victims recalled, “I don’t have anything. The only food I can get is from the Red Cross.”

Many fear the upcoming vote could attract more violence.

On Thursday, police arrested a man sending SMS-threats to local residents trying to make them vote for a specific party.

On election day, over three hundred officers are patrolling polling stations and five hundred SWAT-like commandos have been flown in from the capital Bishkek. Volunteers have also been recruited.

“We’ve now switched to an intense mode of operations,” claimed Pamirbek Asanov, head of the city police, “Besides the additional force, a separate team of around one hundred officers is taking part in tactical drills and will also be deployed in case of emergencies.”

This election was proposed by the interim government in May after President Bakiyev and his government were overthrown by thousands of protesters.

Following disturbances, the opposition took control of the country, promising democratic reform.

Friday is the final day of political rallies, as only one more day remains before the vote on Sunday.

In Osh, authorities seem prepared both in terms of the organization and security.

Central Asia specialist Reinhard Krumm says that, even if the vote goes smoothly, it will not bring immediate change to the country.

“The vote won’t do anything at the beginning. I think we still have serious problems concerning the agenda the new government has to face – which is basically the division between south and north, and a lot of domestic problems,” Krumm told RT.

He also said, though, that the direction Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors will take greatly depends on the government’s ability to tackle the instability in the country.

“If that will actually be a parliamentary system that might definitely have some influence on the other [Central Asian] countries. But a very slow progress will be made in Central Asia,” Krumm added.