Polls have opened in Kyrgyzstan for historic elections to choose a new, empowered Parliament that the government hopes will usher in a new era of democracy. Sundays vote in the former Soviet state comes after an exhausting year of political turbulence and ethnic violence in the south. Heading to cast his ballot at a polling station at the agriculture institute in the southern city of Osh, 49-year old history teacher Ermek Suleimanov said the vote was a momentous turning point for the country. If in the past voting was just a formality, now we will find out who the people really want to lead them, Mr. Suleimanov said. In the ethnic Uzbek suburb of Sharq, a steady flow of voters headed to a local polling station on Sunday morning on the site of a school burned down during the riots. Security has been tightened for the vote in the Central Asian nation to prevent any possible unrest. President Roza Otunbayeva says the elections will be held in a spirit of fairness and transparency. Kyrgyzstan hosts a strategically vital U.S. air base near Afghanistan and is set to embrace a parliamentary system of governance. This marks a sharp departure from the strongman model under President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in April amid violent demonstrations.