Kyrgystan began voting on Sunday in a presidential election with no candidate expected to win outright.
Observers are predicting a close run-off between two pro-Russian candidates, one of whom is backed by the outgoing leader.
Polls close at 8pm and preliminary results may be published a few hours later. There is no set date for the second round, which takes place in the event that none of the 13 candidates wins more than 50% of the vote.
A “boisterous democracy”
The mainly-Muslim nation of six million is already a close ally of Moscow and hosts a Russian military base.
However, in contrast to its Central Asian neighbours, mostly run by autocrats, Kyrgystan is a boisterous democracy that produces sometimes chaotic changes of leadership.
After its first two presidents after the Soviet Union’s demise were ousted by violent riots, the country restyled itself as a parliamentary republic where presidential power are mostly limited to foreign policy and security matters.
Who is Almazbek Atambayev?
The outgoing president. He strengthened executive powers last year by calling a referendum on constitutional changes.
Constitutionally barred from seeking a second six-year term, Atambayev is backing an ally, former prime minister and experienced bureaucrat Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Analysts say victory for the 58-year-old would allow the outgoing leader to remain a powerful figure.
Their Social Democratic party has the biggest faction in parliament and dominates the coalition cabinet.
Highly informative Interview with outgoing #Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev https://t.co/Vhr5WKjQ9X ht— OSCE Academy (@OSCE_Academy) 10 octobre 2017
What about the opposition?
It is quite stiff. Oil tycoon Omurbek Babanov is close behind with his Respublika-Ata Zhurt (Fatherland) party. It is the second-biggest parliamentary faction.
Babanov, also a former prime minister, has accused the government of abusing its power to ensure Jeenbekov’s victory. The authorities charged some of his campaign supporters with plotting a coup and planning to bribe voters.
Babanov has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the charges against his supporters as dirty election tactics.
Atambayev and his cabinet have also accused Kazakhstan, a bigger and wealthier neighbour, of backing Babanov. Both Babanov and the Kazakh government deny this.
What they are saying
“I am absolutely sure that tonight we will know the name of the new president and that name will be Babanov,” a smiling Babanov told reporters as he cast his ballot in Bishkek.
One of his supporters, Fatima Akchokoyeva, a 25-year-old kindergarten teacher, said: “He is young and ambitious, I think he will be able to change Kyrgyzstan for the better.”
Jeenbekov’s voters, on the other hand, saw him as a safe pair of hands who would keep Atambayev’s team in place.
“I think he will be able to maintain stability. Stability is all we need,” said district government employee Saltanat Temirova.