Preliminary results show that the 52-year-old nationalist Sadyr Zhaparov received nearly 80 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election.

Nationalist politician Sadyr Zhaparov is on the way to a landslide victory in Kyrgyzstan’s early presidential election, sparked by the collapse of the previous government.

According to preliminary results from the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission, Shaparov won almost 80 percent of the vote in the Central Asian nation, which is closely allied with Russia, on Sunday, which means that there will be no runoff election.

The data showed that its closest competitor was less than 7 percent behind.

More than 80 percent of voters have also backed a proposal to reform the constitution to give the president greater powers at the expense of parliament, the commission said.

Only more than 10 percent supported parliamentary rule.

The referendum vote marks the end of a mixed political system that was passed in 2010 to tame authoritarianism after two successive presidents of strong men were ousted from power during street protests.

Violent protests that erupted last October brought the 52-year-old Shaparov out of prison to chair the prime minister and culminated in assuming the interim presidency before applying for the full-time position.

Shaparov, who was sentenced to a long prison term for kidnapping a provincial governor as part of a protest, overturned his sentence amid the unrest in October, outperforming 16 rivals in the presidential election by a wide margin.

Russia a “strategic partner”

Despite his nationalist stance – Shapharov’s first act as Prime Minister was to add ethnicity information to national identity cards – he has repeatedly pledged to maintain a close relationship with the former Soviet overlord, Moscow.

“Russia is our strategic partner,” said Shaparov after casting his vote in a suburb of the capital, Bishkek, and called on all groups to accept the results in order to maintain stability.

Russia operates a military airfield in the mountain nation and is the main destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant workers.

Neighboring China is another major trading partner and investor in the impoverished and predominantly Muslim nation, whose economy has been plagued by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting trade and travel disruptions.

Zhaparov’s sentence is based on his campaign in the early 2010s to nationalize the giant Kumtor gold mine, operated by Canada’s Centerra Gold. However, after coming to power last year, he said that was no longer a goal and that he was just trying to make sure the profits were shared fairly.

Zhaparov’s campaign, which combined references to traditional symbols and values ​​with promises such as doubling health spending, was well received by voters, especially in rural areas.

Prior to the overthrow of President Sooronbay Jeenbekov’s government in October, similar violent protests deposed presidents in 2010 and 2005. Another former head of state, Almazbek Atambayev, is arrested on corruption charges.

The protesters on Sunday denounced Zhaparov’s plan to amend the constitution, which opponents say will put the country on a path towards authoritarianism.

“I am here to show my support for the Constitution, the rule of law and parliamentarism,” said Aizhamal Bektenova, 23.

“I am against what is happening in my country. It is a usurpation of power, disrespect for the law. People came here to protest the corrupt leadership that is trying to take power from the people, ”she added.

Others, however, believe Zhaparov is Kyrgyzstan’s last hope.

“I’m sorry for Shaparov,” said the 46-year-old supporter Uliijan.

“Parliament is already constantly criticizing him. You won’t leave him alone. I hope he will keep his promises. Probably not all, but at least some. It will be a lot. “

Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska contributed to this report from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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