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Kyrgyz President Touts Draft Constitution

A woman registers to vote in the village of Archaly, outside Bishkek (AFP) October 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan today held a referendum on a draft constitution the president believes can bring stability to the government, but which the opposition fears could strengthen authoritarian rule.

President Kurmanbek Bakiev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service today that lawmakers left no stone unturned in writing the new document, which increases the role of the parliament and reduces that of the president.

"I fully believe that the [political] dispute will cease because there is no reason for it to continue," Bakiev said. "It is written [in the constitution] that the only source of power is the nation. We have been overwhelmed with discussions on the constitution for the last two years. There is no article which has been left without discussion."

Years Of Political Squabbling

Bakiev said the draft constitution aims to address the infighting that has plagued the government since the 2005 "Tulip Revolution" by balancing power more equally, especially between the executive and legislative branches.

"Why shouldn't we listen to the people's opinion? The nation will adopt the basic law in today's referendum and after that all the existing laws will be adapted in accordance with the constitution. Then there won't be any tensions between the government and the parliament," Bakiev said. "There will be different responsibilities for both the government and the parliament. Frankly speaking, parliament has had no responsibility until now."

"There will be different responsibilities for both the government and the parliament. Frankly speaking, parliament has had no responsibility until now." -- President Bakiev

Under the new rules, the number of seats in parliament would increase from the current 75 to 90. Presidents are limited to serving two full terms and must refrain from any activities in a political party or bloc during their term in office. Other major changes include the abolition of the death penalty.

But not everyone in the opposition is satisfied with the upcoming referendum. Emil Aliev, one of the leaders of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, said the draft constitution strengthens the "authoritarian rule of one person."

Parliamentarian Omurbek Tekebaev, leader of the Atameken (Fatherland) Socialist Party, told RFE/RL that many irregularities took place during today's vote. "[A number of] local election commissions did not open the polling stations in time. In brief, there were a many illegal actions," Tekebaev said. "Of course, this does not bring trust to the referendum. The main thing is that I voted against the [proposed] article that says that it is possible to privatize [Kyrgyzstan's] natural resources."

Local nongovernmental organizations Interbilim and Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society said they had witnessed cases of ballot-box stuffing near Bishkek.

About 130 international observers and more than 10,000 local observers were registered to monitor the vote.

Sufficient Turnout Reported

There were predictions that the referendum would fail to attract the electorate, but as the end of the polling day approached the Central Election Commission reported that nearly 63 percent of the 2.7 million eligible voters had turned out. Preliminary results are expected to be announced later this evening.

In the event the referendum is approved, Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev's government is expected to resign.

An announcement on the date of a possible early parliamentary vote is expected as soon as next week, after the results of the referendum are made official. The proposed constitution mandates that parliamentary elections be held solely on the basis of party lists.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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