|Kyrgyz election commission officials empty a ballot box at a polling station, during the presidential election in Bishkek|
The head of the OSCE's long-term mission to Kyrgyzstan, Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj, hailed what he says is the country's swift progress toward meeting international standards for democratic elections.
It was just a little more than three-months ago that stone-throwing demonstrators stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Bishkek, forcing then-president Askar Akayev to flee. Protesters were angry over alleged manipulation of earlier parliamentary elections.
According to preliminary results from Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev won 89 percent of the vote.
Ambassador Kopaj said Sunday's presidential elections demonstrated measurable progress toward democracy by both the interim authorities and the Kyrgyz people, especially compared to previous elections in Kyrgyzstan. "There were almost no discernible obstacles to campaigning, except the available financial resources of candidates themselves. Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were respected throughout the election process. [Abuse of] administrative resources to favor the incumbent was largely absent, or unsolicited, after strong warnings were announced [by politicians and the interim administration]," he said.
The OSCE's Kopaj also noted considerable progress regarding the use of media, which was of great concern during the flawed parliamentary elections earlier this year that led to Kyrgyzstan's political uprising.
He paid particular tribute to the staging of televised debates in Kyrgyzstan for the first time - and the first-ever run for Kyrgyz president by a woman candidate.
But another OSCE election observer noted that Mr. Bakiyev faced little competition in his bid for the presidency, after he secured the support of opposition leader Felix Kulov, who was a potential rival for the presidency, but now is expected to be named prime minister.
The OSCE's chief coordinator for short-term observers, Kimmo Kiljunen, said "an early agreement between Mr. Bakiyev and Mr. Felix Kulov, while appearing to be key for stabilizing the political process, reduced to some extent the degree of competition. Unfortunately, political parties had limited impact on the campaign, [due] to the fact that influence of party structures remains fragmented."
Mr. Kiljunen also noted questions surrounding the Central Election Commission's preliminary report of nearly 100-percent voter turn-out. He says the OSCE will be examining possible problems with voter turn-out figures, as well as what he said were minor problems with voting lists. But overall, the OSCE's Mr. Kiljunen says election day was peaceful and a step in the right direction.
The OSCE is urging Kyrgyz officials to continue the process of further strengthening democracy in Kyrgyzstan, a nation widely viewed as a possible catalyst for regime change elsewhere in Central Asia.
For his part, Mr. Bakiyev told reporters at the presidential palace it was really the people of Kyrgyzstan who had won this election and that the country no longer risks a dangerous north-south divide.
Mr. Bakiyev also pledged to oversee reforms to parliament and the Constitution, but he twice ruled out any re-run of the flawed parliamentary vote earlier this year that sparked the political unrest.