- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2011

BISHKEK, KyrgyzstanAlmazbek Atambayev may have won Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election, but his moment of glory was soured Monday by a stinging assessment from international vote monitors and news of protests in the turbulent south of the country.

Preliminary returns from nearly all precincts have shown Mr. Atambayev winning more than 60 percent of votes in Sunday’s election, easily pushing aside his closest rivals.

International observers said the elections were held in a peaceful manner, offered a wide choice of candidates and followed an open and free campaign. But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have criticized irregularities.

“What we observed also made clear that serious action is needed to ensure integrity of voting, counting and tabulation,” said Corien Jonker, head of the election observation mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Ms. Jonker said many people were not included on the voter lists, thus making them unable to vote. She said better-compiled lists could have ensured a greater turnout than the 60 percent reported by Kyrgyz electoral officials.

The OSCE report also noted cases of ballot-box stuffing, multiple and family voting, vote-buying and busing of voters.

Kyrgyzstan earned international plaudits last year for holding a parliamentary election that was deemed to be the first fair and free contest in the former Soviet nation’s history.

That election was the first step on the Central Asian country’s tentative path toward developing into a more accountable parliamentary model as enshrined in a constitution adopted last year.

While observers would not comment on whether this presidential election marked a backward trend, the OSCE clearly indicated that it thought Kyrgyz authorities could have performed better.

“I would like to stress that we had hoped for a better election. It is disappointing that the problems on Election Day meant that this election did not live up to the democratic promise resulting from the adoption of the new constitution,” Ms. Jonker said.

Outgoing President Roza Otunbayeva, who has been running the country since April 2010, when former authoritarian leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev was overthrown in a popular uprising, is to step down, setting the stage for the first peaceful transition of power in Kyrgyzstan’s postindependence history.

Although there is limited evidence of mass fraud having taken place, defeated candidates have expressed their determination to dispute the result, questioning preliminary results showing Mr. Atambayev with more than 63 percent — well above the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff.

The main challengers, Kamchibek Tashiyev and Adakhan Madumarov — both nationalists from the southern part of the country — have pointed at alleged violations, including ballot-box stuffing and repeat voting.

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