Kyrgyzstan elections: Presidential front-runners

Voters in Kyrgyzstan go to the polls to elect a new president on Sunday, 18 months after Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted.

Three front-runners are vying to lead this strategically important Central Asian state.

Almazbek Atambayev

He may not be the most colourful of politicians in Kyrgyzstan, but Almazbek Atambayev, the current prime minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party, has been a member of the county's political elite for a long time.

Mr Atambayev started out in the 1980s as a young communist party activist in the then Soviet Republic.

Following independence he made a name as one of the country's most successful entrepreneurs, weathering the turbulent times of post-Soviet economic chaos.

The businessman then turned politician, becoming first a member of parliament, then minister for trade and industry, before briefly serving as prime minister under former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

That only lasted eight months. He resigned and joined the opposition which ultimately drove an increasingly authoritarian President Bakiyev from office.

The change in government brought Mr Atambayev his second stint as prime minister. With inter-ethnic violence breaking out in southern Kyrgyzstan just weeks later, Mr Atambayev's interim administration came under criticism for not preventing it.

But the biggest obstacle to victory is seen in the divide between northern and southern political interests, with Mr Atambayev seen as a northerner.

Observers have also noted his strong links to Russia, where he has travelled many times, as prime minister and as presidential candidate.

Adahan Madumarov

Another front runner is Adahan Madumarov, an articulate speaker with a sharp tongue who made his name as a young television presenter in the newly independent Kyrgyzstan.

As often happens in the country, celebrity status paved his way into parliament. As a young MP he was always outspoken - direct at times to the point of being tactless, according to his critics.

After studies in Russia and Kyrgyzstan and a media career in newspapers and on state TV, Mr Madumarov became part of the small political elite of the country.

But while he is well established, his party, Butun Kyrgyzstan or One Kyrgyzstan, is much younger and was formed just 16 months ago.

Mr Madumarov was a fierce critic of the first Kyrgyz President, Askar Akayev, who was ousted in 2005.

He then took a number of positions in the subsequent Bakiyev government, serving as deputy prime minister, state secretary and later as speaker of the parliament.

It was then that Mr Madumarov, usually immaculately turned out, demanded that MPs should always wear ties.

Adahan Madumarov later fell out with President Bakiyev and threw his weight behind the opposition.

Mr Madumarov promises to bring order and a "dictatorship of law", as he puts it. He has solid support in the south of the country, which suffered deadly ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks last year.

When asked if he would be ready to promote Uzbeks to influential positions, he answered that nationality, age or gender do not matter - only ability.

Kamchybek Tashiyev

Kamchybek Tashiyev is a relative newcomer to the Kyrgyz political scene and may be the most controversial of the front-runners.

He too has been an MP and served as minister for emergency situations under President Bakiyev. Disagreements led to his resignation two years ago, leaving Mr Tashiyev free to emerge as an influential opposition leader as the Bakiyev administration fell.

But critics still accuse him of links with the former president.

Mr Tashiyev, a southerner, counters such suggestions by saying that he refused to support Mr Bakiyev when the ousted leader fled to the south.

Mr Tashiyev's numerous followers in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad credit him with stopping the bloodshed during ethnic clashes there in June 2010.

But his claims that Uzbek community leaders instigated the violence earned him the image of a divisive nationalist, a label that has also been attached to his party Ata Jurt.

Like most candidates, Kamchybek Tashiyev runs on a law-and-order ticket, promising to bring unity to the country.

But it is his ambivalence to the new constitution that is much talked about. Mr Tashiyev is known to be a supporter of strong presidential power.

Some suggest that given the chance, he could try to amend the basic law in order to stop the country's progression towards a parliamentary democracy.

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