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Kyrgyz Voters Approve Constitutional Changes To Strengthen Presidency


Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks after voting in a constitutional referendum in Bishkek on April 11.
Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov speaks after voting in a constitutional referendum in Bishkek on April 11.

Voters in Kyrgyzstan have approved a new constitution that expands the power of the president in a referendum, according to preliminary results.

The Central Election Commission (BShK) said results from 90 percent of ballots showed that around 79 percent of voters backed the constitutional amendments.

The BShK said turnout was around 35 percent, just above the 30 percent threshold required to make the referendum valid.

The new constitution reduces the size of parliament by 25 percent to 90 seats and gives the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies. The current law allowing a president only one term will be scrapped in favor of allowing reelection to a second term.

The amendments also envision the creation of a so-called People's Kurultai (Assembly), described as "a consultative and coordinating organ" that would be controlled by the president. Critics say it could act as a parallel parliament and a way for the president to exert more power.

The referendum comes three months after Sadyr Japarov was elected president following a tumultuous period that saw the ouster of the previous government amid protests over October parliamentary elections and months of political wrangling over the future of the country.

Japarov proposed drafting a new constitution in November 2020 as he emerged from the turmoil as acting president in the wake of the resignation of then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

He easily won the presidential election in January, while a referendum held in tandem saw voters opt for a presidential system that will be the centerpiece of the proposed constitutional amendments.

Kyrgyz President Votes In Referendum On New Constitution
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Speaking to reporters after voting at a polling station outside Bishkek, Japarov said the new constitution was the work of some 100 Kyrgyz experts and would replace a document he said was "copied from many countries."

"Over the past 30 years, many changes have been made to our constitution, which were copied from various sources or from other countries, and this is how we lived," Japarov said.

Incidents and irregularities were reported at some polling stations.

Three individuals attacked a journalist, whose mobile phone was also taken, and an election observer in the southern city of Osh. Police said they were investigating.

Also in Osh, police said they had opened a probe after two local politicians were apparently caught on camera trying to buy votes.

Overall, an NGO monitoring the polls said it had so far registered 50 voting irregularities, with 31 in Bishkek and 19 in Osh.

Some in the Central Asian country have criticized Japarov, saying the new constitution is being rushed through to create an authoritarian system and concentrating too much power in the hands of the president.

In an interview with RFE/RL in March, Japarov defended the changes as needed to create a strong central branch of government to "establish order" in the country of 6.5 million people, which has experienced three uprisings ousting the government since 2005.

He also rejected concerns about a power grab, saying Kyrgyzstan will "remain a democratic country."

The country is also holding local elections.

Japarov was among several prominent politicians freed from prison by protesters during the October unrest.

He had been serving a 10-year prison sentence for hostage taking during a protest against a mining operation in northeast Kyrgyzstan in October 2013. He maintains the charges against him were politically motivated.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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