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Kyrgyzstan elections signal unease with parliamentary rule

Weekend Kyrgyzstan elections came off smoothly and fairly. But they also demonstrate popular unease with reforms designed to prevent a return to one-man rule.

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Running a close second is the Social Democratic Party, which backs the interim government, with just over 8 percent. The party's leader, Almazbek Atambayev, who'd hoped to be prime minister, ran on pledges of sweeping economic reform.

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In third place is the pro-Russian Ar-Namys party, headed by former prime minister Feliks Kulov, with just over 7 percent. Mr. Kulov, whose election billboards featured him shaking hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, has vowed to overturn the parliamentary system, as has the leader of the pro-business Respublika party, which also won around 7 percent of the vote. The small, pro-government Socialist Party was trailing with about 6 percent.

Spoils to the victors

The five winning parties will divide up the shares of the 22 parties that failed to take more than 5 percent of the vote, according to a complicated proportional formula. But experts say the upshot is that a governing coalition will have to be formed, and it does not look good for hopes of political tranquility or for the liberal
constitutional order introduced this year by interim leader Roza Otunbayeva.

Ms. Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to the US, declined a chance to assume full presidential powers for herself following last April's uprising and chose instead to craft a system of parliamentary supremacy which she hoped would finally bring real democracy to Kyrgyzstan.

Though the constitutional referendum passed, Otunbayeva quickly found the concept under withering attack from powerful opponents within Kyrgyzstan. Though her plan was welcomed in the West, Russian President Medvedev publicly slammed it as doomed-to-fail at an international meeting last summer.

"I don't think the Kyrgyz people have thought through the implications of constitutional change. What they want is stability, protection from anarchy, for someone to take responsibility," says Sanobar Shermatova, an analyst of Kyrgyzstan with the official Russian RIA-Novosti agency. "What they want is a strong hand. But what kind of
strong hand will parliamentary leaders provide if they squabble among themselves? We're at the beginning of a very long road, and the most important challenge in the coming period will be to keep it within the bounds of legality."

Russian anaylysts were in I-told-you-so mode on Monday. Russia abandoned its own experiment with parliamentary democracy amid a mini-civil war in downtown Moscow in 1993, and Russian officials last week hailed the reversal of parliamentary reforms in neighboring Ukraine in favor of creating a stronger presidency.

"We never opposed parliamentary democracy on principle, but we did say that under present conditions in Kyrgyzstan it won't work," says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Kremlin-sponsored Institute for the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow. He says Kyrgyz parties will likely prove unable to create a "vertical of power," a Russian expression meaning a strong, top-down hierarchy of authority, in the way a single executive force is able to do.

"And you see, the majority of Kyrgyz parties do not support the idea of a parliamentary republic either, because it's not based on common sense."