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Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Remains Divided Over Referendum Results

Kyrgyz officials yesterday announced the final results of the 2 February referendum on proposed amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution. They said that more than three-quarters of the voters approved the amendments, which essentially allow embattled President Askar Akaev to remain in office until his term expires in December 2005. But the Kyrgyz opposition says the referendum was invalid and even illegal, because fewer than 50 percent of voters participated.

Prague, 7 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Central Election Commission of Kyrgyzstan yesterday announced the final results of the referendum that was held on 2 February.

The referendum called on voters to approve the proposed amendments to the Kyrgyz Constitution essentially allowing President Askar Akaev to remain in office until his term expires in December 2005 and strengthen his powers with relation to the parliament and government.

According to the press release issued in conjunction with the announcement, some 2.1 million people, or 86 percent of all registered voters, cast their ballots during the referendum -- a figure well over the 50-percent mark needed to validate the referendum. Of these, some 76 percent voted in favor of the proposed constitutional amendments.

The final figures did not differ significantly from the preliminary results that were announced on 3 February by the Central Election Commission.

Sulaymon Amanbaev, the chairman of the Central Election Commission, announced a similar figure on 2 February, the day of the referendum: "It is a pleasure for me, as a citizen and head of the Central Election Commission, to announce the exceptionally high activity of the citizens of our country. Today's preliminary results show that about 83 percent of our [eligible voters] participated in the poll."

However, Djypar Djeksheev of the opposition Public Headquarters for Monitoring the Referendum (PHMR) told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau the day after the referendum that the official turnout figures in the referendum were significantly exaggerated.

"For the whole of Kyrgyzstan, about 40 percent of eligible voters came to the polls," Djeksheev said. "In Bishkek it was not higher than 30 percent."

Speakers at a press conference yesterday said the PHRM will appeal to the Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. government, and international human rights organizations to declare the referendum illegal.

Lawmaker and Atameken (Motherland) Socialist Party head Omurbek Tekebaev told journalists yesterday that the Kyrgyz opposition considers the referendum illegal. He said that nationwide only 40 percent of voters participated in the referendum, much below the minimum required.

Several opposition observers accused government officials of manipulating referendum results. Emil Aliev, a leading member of the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, described to RFE/RL how authorities in Bishkek transported people from one polling station to another so they could vote several times:

"While monitoring [the referendum procedures], we noticed some shortcomings. [For instance], in the city [Bishkek], buses visited several constituencies, going from one to another with voters who cast their ballots again and again. This way, they artificially increased the number of voters. This was the case not only in Bishkek. We gathered such information from other regions of the Kyrgyz Republic. That is why [the authorities] created obstacles to prevent us from observing the referendum and giving information on the irregularities and [actual] referendum results to other people."

Aliyev was one of several opposition activists detained by police on 2 February on suspicion of kidnapping a man and forcing him to give written testimony about referendum violations. But Tekebaev, who was also arrested, told RFE/RL that no such kidnapping took place. He said he and Aliyev both believe the police action was intended to sabotage their monitoring efforts: "I think it was a means to pressure the united headquarters [of opposition parties and NGOs in connection with monitoring the referendum], to force them to ease their critical evaluation of the shortcomings of the referendum, because some government officials who were around made a slip in speaking on the issue."

One of the strongest criticisms of the referendum came from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. The institute said on 5 February that "polling officials stuffed ballot boxes and pressured voters into saying 'yes' to questions."

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev -- whose immediate political future was secured by the official referendum results -- dismissed allegations of procedural violations. In a strongly worded statement broadcast on 5 February on state TV, Akaev sought to portray the opposition of having tried, unsuccessfully, to sabotage the referendum.

"I evaluate the results of the voting as a clear position of the nation against opposition forces who aimed at political destabilization...disruption of the referendum or announcing it as illegal," Akaev said. "The electorate said 'no' to the forces who were harming national unity and concord."

Also backing the referendum results is the head of the security and defense department of the Kyrgyz presidential administration, Bolot Janusakov: "This shows nationwide support of the amendments and changes to the Kyrgyz Republic's Constitution. Regarding the second question, a majority of the population -- about 80 percent of [the eligible voters] of our country, backed Askar Akaev and said 'yes' to maintaining his constitutional duties [as president] until December 2005."

Russian political analyst Igor Torbakov wrote in an analysis published today that the Russian leadership welcomes the apparent demonstration of public confidence in President Akaev as they view Kyrgyzstan as the lynchpin of Russia's strategy to strengthen its position in Central Asia with relation to the United States.