Kyrgyzstan's former security chief and key opposition leader Felix Kulov formally announced on Monday his candidacy for presidential elections in July, which were called after the ouster of this ex-Soviet republic's longtime leader.
Kulov said he decided to enter the race in a bid to bring "stability, interethnic accord and unity to the nation and the people" of this Central Asian nation.
Kulov is expected to be the main challenger to acting President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was tapped to lead Kyrgyzstan after last month's popular uprising drove long-serving leader Askar Akayev from power.
Presidential elections have been called for July 10.
Kulov said he would offer Bakiyev the prime minister's job if he won. He said he and Bakiyev agreed about the need to prevent divisions in this mountainous nation, where political sympathies are often linked to geography.
Speculation has been running high that Kyrgyzstan could be split into north and south if Bakiyev and Kulov do not cooperate during the elections. Bakiyev is from the south while Kulov hails from the north.
Kulov, a former vice president and security chief, spent more than four years in prison during Akayev's rule on graft charges he says were politically motivated. He was freed immediately after Akayev's overthrow, and his convictions have been annulled, paving the way for his presidential bid.
But Kulov faces one more hurdle: his lack of proficiency in Kyrgyz. Kulov, a native Russian speaker, must pass a linguistics test to be registered as a candidate for the presidency. Akayev created the test as a way to bar Kulov from the presidential race in 2000.
"God willing, I will past the test," Kulov told reporters, adding that he only needs more practice speaking Kyrgyz.
Kulov also said one of his goals as president would be to nudge the country toward a parliamentary republic. "We mustn't give so much power into one person's hands," Kulov said.
Kulov surprised reporters by saying Akayev congratulated him on the phone on his acquittal from the graft charges soon after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the convictions a few weeks ago. He said they had spoken warmly with each other.
"I only struggled against the regime that Akayev had created," Kulov said, adding that he had no personal grievances against the former president.
Akayev and his family fled to Russia after opposition supporters stormed his headquarters in the capital, Bishkek on March 24 amid anger over alleged election fraud and corruption under his 15-year rule.