October 16, 2017 / 10:41 AM / a month ago

Observers see "significant and numerous" problems at Kyrgyzstan vote

BISHKEK (Reuters) - European observers said on Monday there were “numerous and significant procedural problems” during the count in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential vote, but praised the orderly transfer of power in the volatile ex-Soviet state.

Members of a local electoral commission count and sort ballots at a polling station after a presidential election in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

Sooronbai Jeenbekov, a protege of the outgoing president, won on Sunday with 55 percent - a stronger result than the near tie polls had predicted. Opposition leader Omurbek Babanov conceded defeat but said he would investigate irregularities.

The election is seen as a test of stability in the central Asian country where Russia still holds considerable sway and two previous leaders were ousted in violent riots.

The vote was competitive and candidates could, in general, campaign freely, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said. But cases of misuse of public resources, pressure on voters and vote-buying remained a concern, it added.

The election “contributed to the strengthening of democratic institutions by providing for an orderly transfer of power,” the mission’s statement said.

An official confirmation of the figures is expected within a week. A unchallenged result would mark the first peaceful transition of power between full-time presidents in the mostly Muslim nation.

People vote at a polling station during the presidential election in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan October 15, 2017. REUTERS/Vladimir Pirogov

Pre-election polls had suggested both candidates would fail to get 50 percent and have to proceed to a second-round runoff.

Both candidates differed little on the main points of policy during the campaign: a secular state and hewing close to Russia in a region where Moscow vies for influence with the United States and China.

However, they represent rival interest groups and clans inside Kyrgyzstan that are fighting for access to power and state resources.

Outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, who has developed especially close ties with Moscow during his six years in office and stepped down because of term limits, is likely to remain a powerful figure.

Atambayev and Jeenbekov’s Social Democratic party has the biggest faction in parliament and dominates the coalition cabinet. Jeenbekov has pledged to continue his predecessor’s policies.

Kyrgyzstan hosts a Russian military base.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Andrew Heavens

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