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Western Nations, Institutions Praise Kyrgyz Referendum, As Russia Expresses Doubts


Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station in Bishkek on June 27.
The United States, United Nations, European Union, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have all praised Kyrgyzstan for having conducted a peaceful constitutional referendum.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley praised “the peaceful conduct of ordinary citizens who voted without incident.” He added that the White House hoped the referendum is the first step toward peace and stability after what has been a volatile few months.

"The United States calls on the provincial government and all of the citizens of Kyrgyzstan to use this opportunity to advance the process of reconciliation and accountability to ensure future interethnic harmony and move Kyrgyzstan forward on a path to security, stability, democracy, and prosperity for all citizens of the republic,” he said.

Voters in Osh use a mobile ballot box during the June 27 referendum.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the outcome of the referendum demonstrates that the Kyrgyz people are aspiring for peace and stability after weeks of violence and disorder.

"The adoption of a new constitution is an important step towards promoting the rule of law and establishing a legitimate, democratically elected government," Ban said. "The United Nations will continue to support Kyrgyzstan and its people as they prepare for parliamentary elections later this year."

The UN has provided technical support to the referendum process and constitutional reform. It will continue to advise the government on constitutional reform, building of democratic institutions, and organization of the general election planned for the fall of this year.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the June 27 vote marks an "important step toward a re-establishment of the constitutional order and democratic process" in the country.

The OSCE praised Kyrgyzstan for holding a "largely transparent" referendum on a new constitution.

Kyrgyz officials say some 90 percent of participants approved the constitution, paving the way for the first parliamentary democracy in Central Asia and allowing parliamentary elections planned for October.

According to election officials, nearly 70 percent of 2.7 million eligible voters took part in the referendum, only two weeks after deadly ethnic violence in southern provinces killed at least 270 people and forced some 400,000 – mostly ethnic Uzbeks -- from their homes.

In a statement on June 28, the OSCE noted the challenging circumstances, including what it called the "pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation in parts of the south," which may have kept some potential voters home.

The OSCE and local observers also noted some shortcomings during the process, including incorrect ballot counting. In some polling stations, voters were not checked to prevent possible cases of multiple voting, observers say.

The OSCE's Boris Frlec in Bishkek: "The provisional government and other authorities should be commended..."
But the OSCE said "efforts were made to enfranchise internally displaced voters who often had no identification papers."

"Considering the extremely difficult environment in which this referendum took place, only weeks after the violence in Osh and Jalal-Abad," said Boris Frlec, the head of the observer team from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, "the provisional government and other authorities should be commended for organizing a remarkable, peaceful process."

The referendum also gave legitimacy to the interim government, which came to power in April in the aftermath of public protests that toppled President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Roza Otunbaeva, the head of the interim government, outlined her intentions at a news conference shortly after polls closed.

"After a very modest inauguration ceremony, I will be granted presidential powers according to the constitution of 2007," she said. "Then I will begin forming a new government -- a government that will not be called provisional, but it will be a technical government. In English, they say 'a caretaker government.'"

The new constitution considerably reduces presidential powers, the first move of its kind in Central Asia, a region notorious for autocratic presidents.

Roza Otunbaeva: "In English, they say 'a caretaker government.'"
Otunbaeva said voters had chosen to put an end to the era of "authoritarian rule by one family under two previous presidents" -- a reference to Bakiev and his predecessor Askar Akaev, both overthrown by public uprisings amid widespread allegations of corruption and nepotism.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, however, expressed doubts about the viability of the political system that would be ushered in under the new constitution.

"I don't really understand how a parliamentary republic would work in Kyrgyzstan," he said. "Will this not lead to a chain of endless problems, to reshuffles in parliament, to certain political groups gaining power, to uncontrollable shifts of power from one person to another, and, finally, will this not help extremist-minded forces come to power?"

In a separate statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry offered measured praise for the vote, expressing hope that the referendum will "facilitate political stability" in Kyrgyzstan.

Neighboring Tajikistan welcomed Kyrgyzstan's referendum results, with the Foreign Ministry saying Dushanbe would work with any government the people of Kyrgyzstan choose for themselves.

Other neighboring Central Asian states have yet to give official reactions to the Kyrgyz referendum.

Final results of the referendum will be available later in the week.

written by Farangis Najibullah, with agency reports

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