Skip to main content

Kyrgyzstan election under way amid concerns

By Brian Walker, CNN
  • Citizens vote for new constitution in Kyrgyzstan
  • International observers report steady, peaceful turnout
  • Voter turnout nationwide at 26 percent as of noon
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Uzbekistan

(CNN) -- Voting was under way Sunday for a new constitution in Kyrgyzstan, just weeks after the strategically-important central Asian nation was wracked by ethnic violence.

International observers reported a steady, peaceful turnout around the capital as voters considered the controversial vote. Election monitor Mariya Rasner reported that voters were waiting outside polling stations in the capital, Bishkek. Rasner said she witnessed no problems at the several locations she had visited by midday.

"I'm seeing a lot of people turning out, and that's a good thing as there was a real concern among the people here about the security situation following the ethnic violence," Rasner said.

Voter turnout nationwide was 26 percent as of noon, she said.

Official media quoted government officials saying that all 2,281 polling stations nationwide were accepting ballots.

"We expect sufficient level of voter turnout amid fears the poll could spark a resurgence of violence in the south of the country," said Akylbek Sariyev, chairman of the central election commission.

But little was known about progress in the south, where the worst of the violence happened earlier this month.

Local media reported that Interim Prime Minister Roza Otunbayeva has voted in person in the troubled city of Osh.

News outlet Kyrgyzstan 24 said the interim leader met with local leaders after casting her ballot.

However, tensions remained high in the south, with few ethnic Uzbeks showing up at the polling sites.

Otunbayeva is quoted by the government as thanking security forces for taking "measures for stabilization the situation in the south of the republic."

A government official said Saturday that about 7,500 police officers and 7,500 volunteers were being deployed to ensure security during the vote.

Sunday will mark the country's first election since President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April. Voters will decide whether to approve the draft constitution, which proposes curtailing the president's powers and converting Kyrgyzstan into a parliamentary republic.

Voters will also decide whether to endorse Otunbayeva as president until the end of next year. She will not be entitled to run for president in elections slated for October 2011.

Whoever wins next year's election would take office in January 2012.

The official death toll in the clashes that began June 10 stands at 275, though government officials say the numbers could be much higher. More than half a million people -- about a tenth of the nation's total population -- were displaced, many taking refuge in neighboring Uzbekistan. More than 1,300 houses were burned, the agency said.