Nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov is on track for a landslide victory in the instant presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, sparked by the collapse of the previous government.
Japarov won nearly 80% of the vote on Sunday in the central Asian nation closely allied with Russia, according to preliminary results cited by Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission, meaning there will be no run-off .
The data showed that its closest competitor followed with less than 7%.
“I am assuming power at a time of hardship and crisis,” Japarov told reporters after the results were announced.
“One or two years won’t be enough to fix everything, we can do it in three or four years and that will require stability.”
More than 80% of voters also supported a proposal to reform the constitution to give the president greater powers at the expense of parliament, the committee said.
Just over 10% supported parliamentary rule.
The referendum vote marks the end of a mixed political system adopted in 2010 to tame authoritarianism after two successive strongman presidents were kicked out of power during street protests.
Violent protests that erupted last October on springs Japarov, 52, rose from prison to the prime minister’s presidency and culminated in him assuming the interim presidency before running for the full-time post.
Japarov, who was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for kidnapping a provincial governor as part of a protest, had his verdict overturned amid the October unrest and far surpassed 16 rivals in the presidential poll.
Charles Stratford of Al Jazeera, reporting from Bishkek, said the Central Election Commission reported a turnout of around 40% in both votes.
Stratford said the election had been “divisive” as his critics accused him of intimidation and intimidation tactics in the run-up to the election.
[But] he is extremely popular… especially among the rural communities deprived of their voting rights in this country, ”he said.
Russia, a “ strategic partner ”
Despite his nationalist stance – Japarov’s first act as prime minister was to add ethnicity information to national identity cards – he repeatedly pledged to maintain close relations with the former Soviet overlord Moscow.
“Russia is our strategic partner,” Japarov said after voting in a suburb of the capital Bishkek, and urged all groups to accept the results in order to preserve stability.
Russia operates a military air base in the mountainous nation and is the main destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant workers.
Neighboring China is another key trading partner and investor in the impoverished, predominantly Muslim nation, whose economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting trade and travel disruptions.
Japarov’s prison sentence stems from his campaign in the early 2010s to nationalize the giant Kumtor gold mine operated by Canadian company Centerra Gold. However, after coming to power last year, he said that was no longer a goal and that he would only seek to ensure that the profits were distributed fairly.
Japarov’s campaign, which combined references to traditional symbols and values with promises such as doubling health care spending, struck a chord with voters, especially in rural areas.
Prior to overthrowing President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s government in October, similar violent protests ousted presidents in 2010 and 2005. Another former head of state, Almazbek Atambayev, is under arrest for corruption.
Some opposition supporters have denounced Japarov’s plan to change the constitution as authoritarian.
“Japarov’s victory will not bring any good because the way he came to power remains suspect. It is a usurpation of power and the elections have not been fair from the start, ”Talgat, an opposition supporter, told Al Jazeera.
“People see him as a martyr or a hero, but his plan to change the constitution is a disaster. We cannot continue to change it. I don’t know why people don’t understand this.
However, others believe Japarov is Kyrgyzstan’s last hope.
“I’m sorry for Japarov,” said Uliijan, 46.
“Already now, parliament is constantly criticizing him. They won’t leave him alone. I hope he will keep his promises. Probably not all, but at least some. It will already be a lot. “
Stratford said the economy is in desperate need of investment as more than 2 million Kyrgyz people are forced to work abroad due to the lack of job opportunities at home.
“[It is a] very controversial election and victory… there is a lot to do for Sadyr Japarov in the years to come, ”Stratford said.
Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska contributed to this report from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.