Kyrgyzstan is holding elections today aimed at creating Central Asia’s only parliamentary democracy.
But deep political and ethnic divisions remain a threat to long-term stability.
Until April the country was, like its other ex-Soviet neighbours, ruled by a powerful president. But he was toppled after a revolution. New, interim president Roza Otunbayeva wants a multi-party parliament to take on many presidential powers.
As she voted in the capital Bishkek, she predicted that both the interim government and opposition parties would be represented in the 120 seat parliament.
The United States supports Kyrgyzstan’s shift towards parliamentary democracy. But Russia, which like the US has a military presence there, has denounced the plan as a “catastrophe”. Moscow is openly backing a pro-Russian party that promises to restore a strong presidency.
Then there are the ethnic divisions which boiled over in the south of the country, in Osh, in June.
Ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were involved in clashes that claimed at least 400 lives and there are fears such violence may flare again after this election.