Newly-elected Kyrgyzstan president to boost his powers

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Sadyr Zhaparov

Sadyr Zhaparov, the top presidential candidate speaks to the media after the presidential election in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. A nationalist politician who was released from prison amid protests that overthrew Kyrgyzstan’s president last year has been elected as his replacement. Voters in Sunday’s election that gave Sadyr Zhaparov a landslide victory also approved a referendum to change the constitution to give the presidency more power. (AP Photo/Vladimir Voronin)

MOSCOW (AP) — A nationalist politician who won a landslide victory in Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election said he would push for quick constitutional changes to strengthen the powers of the presidency.

Election officials said Monday that with 98% of the ballots counted, Sadyr Zhaparov was winning with 79% of the vote. The victory comes just over three months after he was freed from jail by throngs of protesters.

Zhaparov also vowed after the vote that he would maintain close ties with the country’s main sponsor and ally, Russia.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the integrity of the vote was weakened by Zhaparov’s domination of the campaign, noting that his “financial and organizational resources were far greater than all other contestants.”

Zhaparov was serving an 11 1/2-year sentence on charges of abducting a regional governor amid a dispute over a gold mine when he was freed by demonstrators who contested the results of October’s parliamentary election.

Immediately after his release, Zhaparov mobilized stone-hurling supporters to evict President Sooronbai Jeenbekov from office and then took the helm as the nation’s interim leader. He renounced that position shortly after in order to be able to run for president as required by law but continued calling the shots, relying on his allies in parliament.

The unrest marked the third time in 15 years that a leader of the nation of 6.5 million on the border with China was forced out by a popular uprising. Like the previous uprisings that toppled presidents in 2005 and 2010, the latest turmoil was driven by clan rivalries that shape the country’s politics.

In a referendum held in parallel with Sunday’s election, 81% voters supported strengthening presidential powers. Zhaparov, who initiated the vote, said Monday he would push quickly for drafting the relevant constitutional changes to be approved by another plebiscite in several months.

At least two of Zhaparov’s 16 rivals in the vote refused to acknowledge his victory, claiming that the vote was falsified. There was no sign of unrest, however, after Zhaparov had consolidated control over the country.

Kyrgyzstan, which is a member of Russia-dominated economic and security alliances, hosts a Russian air base and depends on Moscow’s economic support. It formerly was the site of a U.S. air base that served as a key transport hub for the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking after the polls closed, Zhaparov pledged that Russia will remain the country’s “main strategic partner.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who previously voiced concerns about the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, on Monday quickly congratulated Zhaparov on winning the vote.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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