International monitors on Monday offered encouraging assessments of Kyrgyzstan's presidential election, despite what the monitors called an obvious effort to inflate voter turnout figures in the first balloting since a March street revolt sent the last president into exile.
Official results for the voting Sunday showed acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev collecting 88 percent of the vote to remain in the office he has occupied since March 24, when President Askar Akayev abruptly fled protests after a 15-year rule.
While the magnitude of the victory -- the second-place finisher managed to win just 3 percent of the vote -- evoked comparisons with the controlled outcomes of elections in the Soviet era, democracy activists and foreign observers here said Bakiyev's margin appeared to generally reflect the voting.
The other five candidates lacked both Bakiyev's experience as a former prime minister, they said, and his credentials as an opposition figure who led the uprising that toppled a president widely regarded as corrupt and unresponsive to the country's largely impoverished 5 million citizens.
"It's really a great confirmation of what happened on March 24," said Edil Baisalov, leader of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, which supported the protests against Akayev. "It's not so much about the future as about the past. It's about what not to do: Don't be like Akayev."
On that point, Western election specialists generally concurred.
"No one's questioning the result of the election," said Michael Trend co-leader of an observer delegation organized by the International Republican Institute, which is affiliated with the Republican Party. The Washington-based group uses U.S. government aid to promote democracy overseas and sees a beacon in tiny Kyrgyzstan, which followed the lead of street revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in toppling a post-Soviet autocrat.
"This is an important election in a lot of ways," said Stephen B. Nix, the institute's director for Eurasia. "It raises a lot of hope."
The uprising in Kyrgyzstan resembled a coup; it unfolded in Bishkek, the capital, in a single day, compared with weeks of incubation through mass demonstrations in public squares in Georgia and Ukraine. Western officials said they saw traces of continuing authoritarianism in Sunday's vote.
Observers were uniformly skeptical of the turnout figure, officially reported at 74 percent. Foreign monitors said the number appeared to be pulled out of thin air by the government's election commission in order to guarantee that Sunday's vote far exceeded the 50 percent turnout that Kyrgyz law requires to make an election valid.
Kimmo Kiljunen, who headed the observer mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a grouping of 55 countries, said that the actual turnout appeared to be a comfortable 58 percent, yet jumped to the "implausible" 74 percent at the close of balloting.
"The turnout changed quite dramatically at the end," Kiljunen said.
Several observers said Kyrgyz election officials tinkered with the arithmetic that produces a turnout figure by summarily trimming the list of eligible voters. Trend said officials erased 180 names at the polling station he visited. "If you start with a figure, you really ought to stay with it," he said.
Bakiyev, 55, denied that voter lists had been so brazenly manipulated. "You understand that ideal elections exist nowhere," he said.
Addressing reporters amid the pink marble and red carpets of the White House, which has been tidied since being overrun by protesters, the president-elect heralded the election as "without exaggeration, a victory for our people and the revolution of March 24."
Bakiyev said he would name a former political prisoner, Felix Kulov, as prime minister, fulfilling a promise that ended Kulov's rival candidacy and united the favorites from the country's more prosperous north and ethnically diverse south. He also said most of the acting cabinet and parliament would remain in place, and pushed aside a question about reports of corruption in their ranks.
"We will do our best to expand democratic principles for the development of Kyrgyzstan," Bakiyev vowed. "So in the near future, two or three years, people in Kyrgyzstan will experience a better life."
He also raised the question of how long his country would continue to host U.S. forces, which support military operations in Afghanistan from an air base here. "Afghanistan has had presidential and parliamentary elections," he said. "The situation there has stabilized. So now we may begin discussing the necessity of U.S. military forces' presence," Bakiyev said.