Five parties won seats in Kyrgyzstan's new parliament on Monday, a fragmented result that means tough negotiations lie ahead to form a coalition to lead the Central Asian state out of failed authoritarian rule.
Kyrgyzstan is trying to form the first parliamentary democracy in a region dominated by post-Soviet strongmen, only four months after hundreds died in ethnic violence and six months after its president was toppled in a popular uprising.
Sunday's election was hailed by international observers and passed without violence and only minor reports of fraud. Under new rules, parliament will be the country's main decision-making body, assuming more power than the president.
More than half of the electorate voted, but no party secured more than 9 per cent of the vote.
Ata Zhurt, a party whose members include former colleagues of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, narrowly placed first with 8.7 per cent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said with almost all votes counted.
The other four parties that won seats include one whose leader was an architect of the reforms that shifted power to parliament, and two that staunchly oppose the changes.
"We can be proud of the fact that these elections were completely different to those we have seen before," President Roza Otunbayeva said in a televised address. Ms. Otunbayeva says she will remain as president until Dec. 31, 2011.
After nearly two decades of authoritarian rule since the collapse of the Soviet Union, interim leaders want to empower a prime minister to bridge political and ethnic rifts.
"This is the first time that the Kyrgyz people have tasted democracy," said Chynybai Tursunbekov, candidate for the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, second in the polls.
Ms. Otunbayeva came to power after a popular revolt in April toppled Mr. Bakiyev, a former opposition leader who had taken over after his Soviet-era predecessor was chased from office by street protesters in 2005. Mr. Bakiyev is now exiled in Belarus.
White House praise
The United States, which operates a military air base in the country to support the war in Afghanistan, has vocally supported the plan to create the region's first parliamentary democracy.
Russia, which also has an air base in Kyrgyzstan, opposes the parliamentary model, arguing it could expose the country to more violence or a power grab by Islamist militants.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement the vote "renews our conviction to help the courageous people of Kyrgyzstan consolidate their democracy, jumpstart their economy, and maintain peace and security."
"The next phase in Kyrgyzstan's democratic restoration should be the formation of a coalition government that can govern the country effectively and peacefully," he said.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent about 250 observers, praised the wide choice of candidates and vibrant campaign.
"I have observed many elections in Central Asia over the years, but this is the first election where I could not predict the outcome," said Morten Hoeglund, special co-ordinator of the short-term OSCE observer mission to Kyrgyzstan.
The Central Electoral Commission said five of the 29 parties which contested the polls had met the minimum requirements to win seats, by gathering more than 5 per cent of the nationwide vote and more than 0.5 per cent in each of the country's regions. The 120 seats will be distributed proportionately among them.
Turnout was 57 per cent and the highest percentage of voters, 66 per cent, was in Osh, epicentre of the country's worst ethnic violence in June. The proliferation of parties meant nearly two-thirds of votes went to groups that won no seats.
"The battle now will be inside parliament, and not on the streets," said Mars Sariyev, an independent analyst in Bishkek.
Ata Zhurt, which placed first, is popular among ethnic Kyrgyz in the south, where clashes with ethnic Uzbeks led to the June violence. Opponents say the party is too closely linked with ousted leader Mr. Bakiyev, unpopular in much of the country.
"These are Bakiyev's people," said Tursun, a 55-year-old garage manager in Bishkek, who declined to give his surname. "They will sell our land to the Chinese, the Kazakhs and the Uzbeks. In 50 years, what will be left?"
The Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan was a close second with 8.2 per cent. Its leader, Almazbek Atambayev, was deputy to Ms. Otunbayeva in the interim government that took power in April.
The Ar-Namys party of former prime minister Felix Kulov, which has been a fierce critic of the parliamentary model of government and has campaigned on a platform of close relations with Russia, was third in the vote with a 7.6 per cent share.
Respublika, led by an entrepreneur, was in fourth place and Ata Meken, led by Omurbek Tekebayev, author of the reforms that made the vote possible, placed fifth.
Critics of the vote say the threat of violence persists, particularly if parties believe they have been excluded from the new parliament or should criminal groups want to foment unrest.