Voting is underway in Kyrgyzstan in a presidential election that is attracting international attention. Six candidates are competing for the presidency on July 23, including Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the incumbent leader.
He is credited with increasing stability and raising living standards during his four years in power, but is increasingly accused of intimidation by the opposition. The small central Asian state rarely makes headlines, but is currently the focus of increasing rivalry between Washington and Moscow, as they both seek to expand their influence in the region. Kyrgyzstan, a Muslim state, sprang to the top of Washington’s regional policy when the Obama administration decided to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. The US air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan plays a key logistical role. Bakiyev is also said to be in talks with Moscow to open a military training hub. Both Russia and the West will be watching closely for signs of unrest as the country’s 2.7 million voters go to the polls.