Tense Kyrgyzstan votes in 'historic' polls

President Roza Otunbayeva, who came to power in a bloody uprising in April and has championed the new political system, rejected warnings from Russia that the elections risked sparking a resurgence of the violence.

"Today I am calm and I think that the elections will proceed normally, without excesses, because a lot of resources have been invested in them," she told reporters as she cast her vote.

"Today is a historic day for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The people will choose their fate, their future," she added. Some 2.8 million of the country's five million population are eligible to vote.

Kyrgyzstan created Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy in a referendum earlier this year after the bloody April revolution, which toppled former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, and deadly inter-ethnic clashes in June.

The system, which will allow the Zhogorku Kenesh parliament to appoint the government, is a stark contrast to the strongman presidential rule elsewhere in the region where parliaments operate as no more than a rubber stamp. But around six parties are expected to pass the five per cent threshold to win seats in the assembly, meaning that the outcome is set to be anything but simple with intense post-election bartering likely.

A pair of pro-Otunbayeva centre-left parties -- Ata-Meken and the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK) -- are expected to figure prominently but not win a majority, according to recent opinion polls.

But an upset could come from the Ar-Namys party led by ex-prime minister Felix Kulov, a favourite of the Kremlin who has campaigned under law-and-order slogans and vowed to reinstate the presidential system favoured by Moscow.The virulently nationalist Ata-Zhurt, targeted this week in a mob raid on its offices that saw piles of its campaign literature burned in the street, has also made a strong campaign showing.

But Otunbayeva played down fears that the elections will create a chaotic patchwork of parties in the Zhogorku Kenesh, saying she believed it could form a government "if not at the first then at the second attempt".

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