BISHKEK -- Sadyr Japarov, who has suspended his duties as Kyrgyzstan's acting president and prime minister in order to be eligible to take part in the country's upcoming presidential election, has defended proposed changes to the constitution that would give more powers to the president.
Japarov responded to criticism of the draft reforms, which he initiated earlier this month, by noting in a televised interview on November 23 that the Kyrgyz people have long been aware of the suggested changes.
"The draft's main part was outlined in 2010 and I was not among its more than 20 authors," Japarov said, adding that he had proposed just two clauses to the bill in consultation with legal experts.
Whereas the duties of the executive branch are currently divided by an elected president and a prime minister chosen by parliament, the controversial draft being considered by the Constitutional Council calls for a single executive -- the president -- along with a smaller parliament and a new body called the People's Kurultai (Congress).
There have been questions about who is responsible for the proposed changes, introduced amid a political crisis triggered by mass protests over the results of parliamentary elections in October, with at least one lawmaker saying he was wrongly listed as a coauthor.
Rights groups and activists, meanwhile, have criticized the draft reforms as a threat to the democratic process that puts too much power in the hands of the president, and a rushed process that the current caretaker government does not have the legitimacy to initiate.
Jarapov, who seeks a national referendum on the reforms to be held simultaneously with the early presidential election on January 10, 2021, blamed the ongoing political crisis on the current format.
"The system we call parliamentary is in fact an organ by which three political parties unite, divide the country into three parts, and appoint some leftovers to the posts," he said. "That is why I propose to unite president with parliament in order to have one organ, and also to have the People's Kurultai."
The idea of establishing the People’s Kurultai, to which the parliament and the government would report, has come under considerable scrutiny, with some suggesting it would be a rubber-stamp body for the presidential office.
The publication of the draft constitution on November 17 has triggered several demonstrations in the Kyrgyz capital just weeks after protests over the outcome of the parliamentary elections led to the resignation of the government and President Sooronbai Jeenbekov as well as the cancellation of the vote.
Japarov, who amid the October demonstrations was released from prison where he was serving a sentence for kidnapping a political rival, became prime minister and was handed presidential powers following Jeenbekov's resignation.
He has been accused by a number of civil rights activists and rival politicians of trying to "usurp" power upon becoming caretaker president.
As acting president, he signed legal changes that postponed fresh parliamentary elections tentatively set for December 20 to an unspecified date in 2021, despite a requirement that such a vote comes within two months.
That move cleared the way for an early presidential election on January 10.
Under current legislation, anyone serving as president in an interim capacity may not run in an election for the post.
On November 14, Japarov suspended his duties of acting president and prime minister to become eligible to seek the presidency.
Parliament chairman Talant Mamytov became acting president, with Artyom Novikov named acting prime minister.