Pro-Russian parties seen winning Kyrgyz parliamentary poll

By Olga Dzyubenko and Dmitry Solovyov BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyz voters are expected to hand pro-Russian parties a fresh five-year mandate in a parliamentary election on Sunday that is overshadowed by ethnic tensions and rising Islamist radicalism in the impoverished former Soviet republic. The mainly Muslim nation of six million has moved closer to Russia and away from the West in recent years. Under a deadline set by parliament, the United States last year shut down an airbase in Kyrgystan that had served U.S. operations in Afghanistan since 2001. Located on a drug trafficking route from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan remains vulnerable to political volatility after ousting two presidents in popular uprisings in 2005 and 2010. The Social Democrats, who led the outgoing coalition, look set to emerge again as the largest party. They are still firmly associated with President Almazbek Atambayev, even though he formally stepped down as their leader after being elected head of state in 2011. Atambayev has indirectly backed the Social Democrats during the campaign, opening roads, tunnels and other infrastructure and urging voters "to choose stability", the party's buzzword. "Some of those who prophesied four or five years ago that Kyrgyzstan is a failed state ... are still blathering on today," he said on Friday as he distributed new apartments to police officers in the capital Bishkek. "Our nation has a great future, provided of course that it is not cheated," he said, in a swipe at some opposition politicians. RUSSIAN TIES More than 2,000 candidates representing 14 parties are running for the 120 seats in parliament, which enjoys stronger control of the government and economy than Kyrgyzstan's more autocratic Central Asian neighbours. Atambayev has forged warm ties with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which retains a military airbase in Kyrgyzstan, fearing an advance of militant Islam in the region. Moscow has forgiven a lot of Kyrgyz debt and has developed large economic projects in the landlocked Central Asian state. Around one million Kyrgyz also work in Russia and send home remittances that help the local economy. Also closely watching Sunday's election is China, whose restive Xinjiang region borders Kyrgyzstan and which is present in several Kyrgyz industries, including energy and mining. Kyrgyzstan is a member of the Moscow-led military bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (ODKB), and of the Eurasian Economic Union, a pet project of Putin. The outgoing parliament voted unanimously in 2011 to name a peak in the Tien Shan mountains after Putin. By contrast, ties with the United States have soured since Washington conferred a human rights prize on an ethnic Uzbek dissident who is serving a life sentence on charges of inciting ethnic hatred during clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz which killed more than 400 people in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Asked which party he would vote for, disabled police colonel Kuvat Karasartov said: "For our president of course." Atambayev, whose term as president runs till 2017, is not taking part in Sunday's election. Karasartov was clearly referring to the Social Democrats, who are still known as the 'president's party'. "Even without receiving this apartment I would have voted for (the president)," Karasartov added. Polls open on Sunday at 8 a.m. (0200 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1400 GMT). (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Gareth Jones)