Voters in Kyrgyzstan cast ballots Sunday in an early presidential election that will also determine how much power the next president has.
The vote follows the ouster of the previous president in October.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian nation sank into turmoil after a parliamentary election that was swept by pro-government parties. Opposition supporters accused authorities of rigging the vote and forced President Sooronbai Jeenbekov to step down on Oct. 15.
Sadyr Zhaparov, a 52-year-old politician who was freed from jail by protesters and then spearheaded Jeenbekov's removal from office, is widely expected to win the presidency.
The unrest marked the third time in 15 years when a leader of the 6.5-million nation 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.
Zhaparov, who had been in prison since 2017 on a kidnapping conviction, became the country's interim leader, but he renounced that position to be able to run for president as required by law. But despite that he has continued to call the shots, relying on his allies in parliament and is broadly expected to win the race against 16 other contenders.
He also pushed for the constitutional referendum Sunday that will determine whether the country should strengthen the powers of the presidency.
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.
Russia has voiced concerns about the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan but refrained from supporting any of the presidential candidates.