Kyrgyzstan’s electoral commission has declared the results of Sunday’s parliamentary vote invalid after protesters stormed the parliament building in a night of violence that left one person dead and hundreds injured.
Similar rallies broke out on Monday night in several cities across the country in outrage at what demonstrators and opposition parties called a rigged election. Initial results have handed victory to establishment parties, one of which is close to sitting president Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
About 4,000 people took part in a protest outside the seat of both government and parliamentary power in Bishkek on Monday night, which police said they had successfully dispersed using water cannon, tear gas and stun grenades.
But many returned in the small hours of Tuesday morning and breached the perimeter gate of the White House - the seat of both parliament and government in the capital. Local media said fires were seen at the building, though these later appeared to have been put out.
The head of the Central Election Commission, Nurzhan Shaildabekova, told the Interfax news agency that the decision to cancel the vote was made to “prevent tension” in the country.
Protesters have taken over several more buildings, including the mayor’s office, and also broken into the headquarters of the State Committee on National Security and freed former president Almazbek Atambayev, who was sentenced to a lengthy prison term this year on corruption charges after falling out with Jeenbekov, his successor.
A leader of the opposition Mekenchil Party said protesters plan to appoint their own “interim” prime minister, and ultimately oust the president and form a new government. They have already named their own acting head of national security, acting prosecutor general and a “commandant” of Bishkek.
Speaking early on Tuesday, President Jeenbekov described the unrest as an attempt by opposition political forces to seize power illegally after the election – though he did not rule out the possibility of holding a new vote.
And after the health ministry said one person had been killed and 590 wounded in the overnight clashes, the president said he had ordered security forces not to use live fire and “not to shed blood”.
Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian nation of 6.5 million people closely allied to Russia, is no stranger to political unrest – in the last 15 years, two administrations have been toppled by revolts.
But the election monitoring body of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a report on Monday that "fundamental rights and freedoms were overall respected" in this year's election in Kyrgyzstan, although "credible allegations of vote buying remain a serious concern".
The preliminary results released on Monday showed the pro-government Birimdik party received more than 26 per cent of the votes, and the Mekenim Kyrgyzstan party, linked to a former top customs official, won over 24 per cent.
Three more parties passed the 7 per cent threshold to gain seats in parliament, but another 11 parties which contested the election were seen as failing to win a single seat.
A coalition of at least 12 parties signed a document on Monday demanding the authorities cancel the results of the election and hold a new one.
Klara Sooronkulova, leader of the Reforma opposition party, said: “We all have witnessed a true lawlessness during the election campaign and the election day yesterday. Pressure on the voters, intimidation of the voters, bribing.”
Zhanar Akayev, a legislator with the Ata Meken party, was quoted by the Kyrgyz service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as saying that "a new prime minister and the people's government need to be appointed", and then "a popular election" needs to be held.
Prior to the overnight violence, President Jeenbekov had called for a meeting of all 16 parties involved in the election for Tuesday morning. It was unclear whether the meeting would now go ahead.
Additional reporting by agencies