Voters in the central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan
are heading to the polls to cast their ballots in a presidential election.
Polling stations across the ex-Soviet nation opened at 08:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 08:00 pm, with more than three million people being eligible to vote in the close race.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) in Kyrgyzstan has established 2,375 polling stations for the election, and more than 700 international observers are designated to monitor the voting process.
Presidential candidate Sooronbai Jeenbekov casts his ballot at a polling station during the presidential election, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 15, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
The Sunday election mainly pits Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the 58-year-old member of the Social Democratic Party backed by the outgoing President Almazbek Atambayev, against former prime minister Omurbek Babanov, 47, among a total of 13 candidates.
“I am absolutely sure that tonight we will know the name of the new president and that name will be Babanov,” a smiling Babanov told reporters as he cast his ballot in the capital, Bishkek.
Jeenbekov’s supporters, on the other hand, see him as a safe pair of hands that will be able to maintain stability.
Presidential candidate Omurbek Babanov (2nd-R), surrounded by his family members, casts a ballot at a polling station during the presidential election, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on October 15, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
The vote is deemed historic as this is the first time an elected Kyrgyz president is due to peacefully hand over power in an election. The two previous presidents were forced out of power following uprisings, in 2005 and 2010.
The country’s presidents are restricted to a single six-year term under a constitution that has been in force since 2010.
There have been reports of campaign violations and a row over alleged interference from neighboring Kazakhstan.
The Muslim-majority ex-Soviet nation hosts a Russian military air base, and its economy relies heavily on remittances from migrant laborers working in Russia, as well as on gold mining.
There is no date set for a runoff vote, which will take place in the event that none of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote.