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Politics

Kyrgyz nationalist wins presidency in landslide: preliminary count

Japarov grabs about 80% of vote, with referendum to grant him greater power

Sadyr Japarov and his wife Aigul pose for a picture after casting their ballots in Kyrgyzstan's presidential election in Bishkek on Jan. 10.   © Reuters

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- Nationalist politician Sadyr Japarov won a landslide victory on Sunday in Kyrgyzstan's snap presidential election, which was triggered by the collapse of the previous government.

Japarov has won almost 80% of the vote in the Central Asian nation which is closely allied with Russia, preliminary results cited by Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission showed, meaning there will be no run-off.

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

Violent protests which erupted last October sprung Japarov, 52, from jail to the prime minister's chair and culminated in him assuming the interim presidency before he ran for the full-time role.

Japarov, who was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for kidnapping a provincial governor as part of a protest, had his verdict quashed amid the October unrest and has outspent 16 presidential poll rivals by a wide margin.

Despite his nationalist stance - Japarov's first act as prime minister was to add ethnicity information to national ID cards - he has repeatedly pledged to maintain a close relationship with former Soviet overlord Moscow.

"Russia is our strategic partner," Japarov said after casting his ballot in a suburb of capital Bishkek, and urged all groups to accept the results in order to preserve stability.

Russia operates a military airbase in the mountainous nation and is the main destination for hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrant labourers.

Neighbouring China is another key trade partner and investor in the impoverished and predominantly Muslim nation, whose economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting disruptions to trade and travel.

Japarov's prison sentence stems from his campaign in the early 2010s to nationalise the giant Kumtor gold mine operated by Canada's Centerra Gold. After coming to power last year, however, he said that was no longer a goal and he would only seek to ensure profits are split fairly.

Japarov's campaign, which combined references to traditional symbols and values with promises such as doubling healthcare spending struck a chord with voters, especially in rural areas.

Before toppling the government of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov in October, similar violent protests deposed presidents in 2010 and 2005. Another former head of state, Almazbek Atambayev, is under arrest on corruption charges.

"I voted against everyone because it makes no difference for ordinary people who is in charge, everyone lies to us," Bakyt, a 52-year-old power engineer who only gave his first name, said.

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