Kyrgyzstan's parliament elected a speaker and approved a new government on Friday, laying the foundation for Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy after months of upheaval and violence.
The country's Central Asian neighbours, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have authoritarian presidential systems.
The West, Russia and China all want access to the region's huge natural resources but are wary of any involvement that might worsen its ethnic and religious divisions.
The new Kyrgyz model of government, backed by the United States but previously criticised by former imperial master Russia, makes parliament the main decision-making body and gives the prime minister more power than the president.
Future presidents will be limited to a single six-year term but will have the right to appoint the defence minister and national security service head. Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva will step down on Dec. 31, 2011.
Candidates for speaker and prime minister, as well as the structure of the government, were proposed to parliament by Ata Zhurt (Motherland), the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan and Respublika, which formed a governing coalition this week.
A previous three-party grouping had lasted just two days, failing to elect a speaker.
Ata Zhurt faction leader Akhmatbek Keldibekov was elected speaker by a 101-14 vote in the 120-seat legislature.
Deputies later approved Social Democratic Party leader Almazbek Atambayev as prime minister and Respublika leader Omurbek Babanov as first deputy prime minister.
Three failed attempts to elect a speaker and prime minister would have forced Otunbayeva to hold a new parliamentary election in the impoverished mountainous nation.
Tensions still run high in Kyrgyzstan after more than 400 people were killed in June clashes in the volatile south between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks.
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic that hosts Russian and U.S. military air bases, held elections on Oct. 10 that resulted in five parties winning seats in the new legislature.
Kyrgyzstan, a mainly Muslim nation of 5.4 million, lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and is regionally and culturally divided into north and south. Clan rivalries and widespread cronyism are additional threats to the fragile peace.
"Now you will no longer be divided into reds and whites, or into regions," Atambayev told deputies. He did not elaborate.
Longtime president Askar Akayev was forced to flee in 2005 after mass protests. Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who deposed him and took over, suffered a similar fate in April this year and fled to Belarus following violence in which at least 85 were killed.
"The nation must not be run by one family," Atambayev, 54, who was Bakiyev's prime minister before joining the opposition, told parliament. "There will now be strict control."
Keldibekov, 44, ran the state tax committee under Bakiyev. Babanov, a 40-year-old entrepreneur, was first deputy prime minister in Bakiyev's day.
"We must regain investor confidence," said Atambayev. He said gold deposits, ample hydro power resources and agriculture could be drivers of the country's future economic growth.
Keldibekov's swift election and the approval of Atambayev and Babanov could not hide sharply contrasting views within the coalition on Kyrgyzstan's future.
Ata Zhurt is strongly opposed to parliamentary rule and was fiercely critical of the interim government during the election campaign. Many party supporters favoured Bakiyev's leadership.
The Social Democrats are ardent supporters of Otunbayeva's plan to build the first parliamentary democracy in ex-Soviet Central Asia. Respublika also supports a parliamentary model.