The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) observer mission for the recent Kyrgyz elections has cited "a number of problems" resulting from Bishkek's hurried choice to conduct a presidential election and a major referendum on the Central Asian state's political system simultaneously.
Tamas Meszerics, who led the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observer mission for the January 10 votes, said that Kyrgyzstan's "electoral architecture in terms of the legal framework is OK, what is less clear are all the questions related to the referendum."
Sadyr Japarov, a nationalist politician and former inmate sprung out of jail just three months ago amid street unrest over disputed elections, won the presidential vote by a wide margin.
Kyrgyz voters at the same time gave broad support to switching back to a presidential system that will give Japarov greater powers once a new constitution is passed.
A joint ODIHR/OSCE Parliamentary Assembly preliminary report concluded that candidates "could mostly campaign freely" but the campaign was "dominated by one candidate who benefited from disproportionate financial means and misuse of administrative resources, resulting in an uneven playing field."
Two days later, Meszerics told RFE/RL that the scheduling gave rise to "a number of problems" even beyond accusations that administrative resources were abused to boost support or scattered accusations of vote buying.
The quick pivot to an election and referendum so soon after the October political crisis that ousted President Sooronbai Jeenbekov and other senior officials and left Japarov as acting president and prime minister has left many loose ends, including about the legitimacy of some of the early appointments.
A second referendum on a new constitution is tentatively slated for March.
The speed of the preparations for the January 10 referendum to swap a parliamentary system for a presidential system raised the risk that legal and political corners were being cut.
Meszerics said the pace of the changes after the political maelstrom in October means the preparation of the legislation at the center of the referendum "did not include any public consultation whatsoever on the question."
"Also having...a referendum on the form of government and the presidential election at the same time just creates [a] very strong link between one answer to the question and one particular candidate, the leading candidate and the presidential system," Meszerics said.
As for instances of vote-buying, he said complaints his mission saw suggested they were "not on a significant scale."
But he said complaints of the alleged misuse of administrative resources to further one side "seem to be credible and consistent enough to merit serious consideration" and should be investigated by the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission.
He also suggested that reports of attacks or intimidation of journalists and tough defamation laws "dampen the enthusiasm, for example, for critical or even investigative journalism" in Kyrgyzstan.
"These are problems we believe need to be addressed," Meszerics said.
The results of the October 4 parliamentary elections were annulled after thousands of people protested against large-scale vote-buying campaigns benefiting parties close to allies of then-President Jeenbekov.
Critics, including Human Rights Watch and legal experts, say the caretaker parliament did not have the legitimacy to initiate far-reaching constitutional amendments because its term had expired.