Kyrgyzstan's prime minister said Friday he will step aside and hand duties over to his deputy in order to run in the Central Asian nation's Oct. 30 presidential election.
Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev is seen as favorite to win the election, although he is likely to face stiff opposition from a nationalist leader believed by many to have links to the country's ousted former president.
The campaign is being watched intently by the international community, especially by the United States and Russia, which both have strategically important military air bases in the impoverished former Soviet republic.
Kyrgyzstan has been roiled by unrest since President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was unseated in a deadly popular uprising in April 2010 amid anger over stagnant living conditions and rampant corruption. Several months later, mob-based violence took the lives of hundreds of minority ethnic Uzbeks in the country's south, a former stronghold of Bakiyev's.
Atambayev and deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov lead separate parties in the three-party parliamentary coalition running the country, which Atambayev said has focused on the economy.
"Our government has been working for nine months and three days. In this time, we have seen a trend of economic growth, which is also an indicator of our efforts," Atambayev said.
Atambayev's main challenge looks likely to come from Ata-Zhurt nationalist party leader Kamchibek Tashiyev, who served as a minister under Bakiyev.
Ata-Zhurt rode a wave of nationalist sentiment following ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in 2010 to claim the largest bloc of seats in parliament, but it failed to agree on forming a ruling coalition.
The role of the president was watered down after constitutional reforms last year, but Tashiyev and rival nationalist politician Adakhan Madumarov have promised to reverse those measures.
Some alleged Bakiyev associates in the election are openly calling for the restoration of an authoritarian government.
Candidates must win more than 50 percent of the ballots in October's election or a two-person runoff will be held.
Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Moscow.