The poor, mountainous nation of 6.5 million people has seen repeated political chaos / © AFP
Kyrgyzstan holds parliamentary elections on Sunday where the most important question will be whether the Central Asian country can avoid yet another bout of post-vote instability.
The poor, mountainous nation of 6.5 million people has seen repeated political chaos since gaining independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kyrgyzstan's elections are more competitive than those of its authoritarian neighbours, but three Kyrgyz leaders have been forced from power by protests in the last three decades.
The latest round of instability came after parliamentary elections a year ago, when losing parties took to the streets to denounce a vote they said was rigged in favour of parties close to then-president Sooronbay Jeenbekov.
Protesters seized control of government buildings and hundreds were injured in running battles with police who fired tear gas and water cannon.
The vote results were annulled and current leader Sadyr Japarov, freed from prison during the unrest, was elected president in January.
The vote on Sunday will see 21 parties and hundreds of district candidates campaigning for 90 seats in the single-chamber parliament.
The vote will see 21 parties and hundreds of district candidates campaigning for 90 parliamentary seats / © AFP
Japarov has no obvious horse in the race, but few candidates are seen as hostile to government.
For many Kyrgyz, the main hope is for the vote to proceed peacefully.
"Maybe some want (a revolution) but I think most people are tired of revolutions," 60-year-old Chynara Suleimanova told AFP in the capital Bishkek.
Previous elections have been marred by allegations of widespread vote-buying and Japarov has pledged that this election will be clean.
Daniel Zamirbekov, an 18-year-old student who said he would vote for a reform-touting party viewed as an outside bet for parliament, was sceptical.
"(Voters) will be bussed in and a woman (outside the polling station) will tick them off her list... it is part of our mentality," he said.
Populist Japarov has now cemented power, overseeing constitutional changes that stripped away single-term limits for sitting presidents and strengthened his office at the legislature's expense.
- Rivals jailed -
Some independent candidates have already come under pressure.
People attend a campaign rally / © AFP
Dastan Bekeshev, a visually impaired independent lawmaker, was fined by the election commission after security services launched an investigation into alleged use of minors during his campaign in a district of Bishkek.
Bekeshev told AFP he denies the accusation and does not consider Japarov an opponent, even though the president appeared to criticise him at a meeting this month.
Security services "instead of fighting terrorism are looking into my campaign. Why me? Because I speak my mind," Bekeshev said in an interview at his campaign office.
Other potential rivals to Japarov -- including several former prime ministers -- were jailed or placed under house arrest in recent months, mostly on corruption charges.
Japarov was himself arrested and convicted of hostage-taking in 2017, when he was an opposition politician calling for the nationalisation of a key gold mine.
The new administration moved in May to seize the Kumtor mine from the Canadian company that controlled it, Centerra Gold, citing environmental violations.
Kyrgyzstan's President Sadyr Japarov has pledged that this election will be clean / © POOL/AFP/File
Centerra, whose operations at Kumtor accounted for 12.5 percent of Kyrgyzstan's gross domestic product in 2020, has denied the claims and is contesting the seizure in an international court.
While the nationalisation of the mine has further boosted Japarov's public appeal, his government faces a difficult winter.
An energy crisis is looming after a drought reduced output from the country's lone hydroelectric plant and the threadbare economy is struggling to rebound from the coronavirus.
It is also unclear how much trust his aid-dependent government enjoys from partners such as Russia, whose leader Vladimir Putin registered distaste at the street protests that brought Japarov to power, and the West, which has raised concerns over the constitutional overhaul.
With these challenges in mind, a parliament that is too loyal could prove a problem for the country's leadership, said political scientist Medet Tiulegenov.
"If parliament is full of government supporters, this period of euphoria in the ruling elite will continue, and they will not receive crisis signals," Tiulegenov told AFP.
"If government does not receive these signals, it cannot take action on time."