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Kyrgyz Voters Back Amendments On Same-Sex Marriage, Presidential Power

  • RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service

A poll worker checks the identification card of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev as he voted at a polling station in Bishkek on December 11.

A poll worker checks the identification card of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev as he voted at a polling station in Bishkek on December 11.

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz election officials said voters have overwhelmingly backed amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage and shift some presidential powers to the prime minister.

The two questions were among a package of 26 proposed amendments that voters in the mostly Muslim former Soviet republic were being asked to approve with a simple "yes-or-no" vote on December 11.

The Central Election Commission said 80 percent of voters backed the measures and just over 42 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

There were some reports of alleged fraud.

Iskhak Masaliev of the Onuguu-Progress Party told RFE/RL that political parties had resorted to vote buying, saying "reliable people told me that they were offered 500 to 1,000 soms ($7 to $14) per vote.”

Speaking at a press conference, Deputy Interior Minister Almaz Orozaliev reported five such cases -- three in the capital, Bishkek, and two in the northern Chui region.

Dinara Oshurahunova, a member of the nongovernmental Committee of Civil Control, told RFE/RL that schoolteachers had been posted at polling stations around the country and they were recording names of people who voted. She said they were also calling to students, and even their parents, to ensure they vote.

That was an indication authorities were illegally using administrative resources to get out the vote, she said.

The amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman -- a change that would effectively ban gay marriages -- had garnered wide attention.

The measure parallels related legislation making its way through parliament that toughens punishments for promoting “a homosexual way of life” and “nontraditional sexual relations.” The bill passed a first reading in parliament but has not been given final approval.

While no same-sex marriages have believed to have been recorded by local marriage registries anywhere, some Kyrgyz same-sex couples may have gotten married anyway, through other means. The only restriction that was explicitly stated in the current constitution had been that married couples should be adults.

Neither same-sex marriage, nor homosexuality more broadly, have much support among most Kyrgyz and the issue has been condemned by some Islamic clerics and nationalist groups, who view it as Western values being imported into the country.

Some gay rights and feminist groups are known in the capital, Bishkek, and active on social networks, and there are several gay and lesbian cafes and bars in the city, as well.

The most controversial proposal that Kyrgyz were voting on, however, was a proposal to strengthen the authority of the prime minister while weakening the president.

WATCH: Kyrgyzstan Voting On Constitutional Changes

One proposed amendment would allow the prime minister, with parliament's approval, to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers -- a power that now rests with the president.

​The wording of another indicates that it would also enable the prime minister to appoint and dismiss local administration chiefs without waiting for a proposal from the local council, which is currently required.

And under an amendment to Article 64 of the constitution, the president would no longer chair the Defense Council -- essentially the head of the military and law-enforcement agencies in the country.

Those proposed changes have fueled long-standing suspicion among some in Kyrgyzstan that the referendum is designed to give President Almazbek Atambaev a way to stay in power -- or at least maintain influence -- after his seven-year term ends following an election next fall.

Kyrgyzstan is the only country in Central Asia with a single-term presidency.

Atambaev, 60, has said publicly that he will not seek political office, including the post of the prime minister, after his presidential term ends. But some Kyrgyz political analysts believe that he may intend to continue playing a powerful role behind the scenes.

PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes From Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Referendum Vote (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Atambaev might wish to "install a puppet prime minister" in order to "extend his own political life," Bishkek-based analyst Edil Baisalov says.

Former lawmaker Bakyt Beshimov says that it would be "suicidal" for a "a president whose term is ending not to think about the future of his political legacy."

Atambaev's Social Democratic Party leads the ruling coalition in parliament, the 120-seat Jogorku Kenesh.

Kyrgyzstan has adopted a new constitution three times since it gained independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

The first post-Soviet constitution was introduced in 1993 and the second was passed by referendum in 2007.

The current constitution, approved by referendum in June 2010, formally changed the country’s political system, giving more authority to parliament and limiting the power of the president.

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