BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz lawmakers have approved in the first reading the controversial law on holding a referendum on constitutional amendments that would decide between the parliamentary and presidential systems of governing in the Central Asian state.
While the majority of lawmakers voted for the law on December 9, several lawmakers voted against, including the leader of the opposition Ata-Meken (Fatherland) party, Omurbek Tekebaev, who said there were many irregularities and legal mistakes in the text of the draft law that could lead to legal problems and additional financial expenses.
About a dozen civil-rights activists rallied in front of the parliament building on December 9 protesting the amendments.
The proposal to change the constitution was pushed by Sadyr Japarov, who was named prime minister and obtained presidential powers in mid-October amid protests against the official results of parliamentary elections that ousted the government and led to the resignation of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
Japarov's critics have said that by changing the constitution, the current interim leadership is trying to cement power in its hands.
Japarov, who suspended his duties as acting president and prime minister in mid-November in order to be eligible to take part in the early presidential election on January 10, has publicly defended the proposed draft constitution and called for a national referendum on the amendments to be held simultaneously with the presidential election.
According to the current constitution, the duties of the executive branch are divided between an elected president and a prime minister chosen by parliament.
The controversial draft under discussion calls for a single executive -- the president -- along with a smaller parliament and a new body called the People's Kurultai (Congress) that would control the government and parliament.
Rights groups and activists have criticized the draft reforms as a threat to the democratic process by putting too much power in the hands of the president. They also say the current caretaker government does not have the legitimacy to initiate such deep changes.
The publication of the draft constitution on November 17 triggered several demonstrations in Bishkek.
Several politicians who officially announced their intention to take part in the presidential election said at a press conference in Bishkek on December 9 that they had called on the Central Election Commission (BShK) not to register Japarov as a presidential candidate, as the law does not allow acting presidents to seek office.
They said that even though Japarov resigned from the posts of prime minister and acting president in November, he was still not eligible to take part in the election because, while serving for a short time as acting president, he had appointed politicians loyal to him to key posts, such as chief of the State Committee for National Security and the prosecutor-general, which gives him an advantage over other candidates.
Electoral authorities said on December 9 that 19 individuals, including Japarov, who submitted applications and fees to the BShK, were now considered official presidential candidates.