Q&A: Kyrgyzstan referendum

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Kyrgyz citizens have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution, in a referendum that international observers said was largely transparent and peaceful. The changes mean the leader of the interim government, Roza Otunbayeva, will now serve as president until the end of 2011 and the Constitutional Court will be abolished.

Supporters of Roza Otunbayeva in Bishkek on 16 May 2010
Image caption,
The vote follows the uprising in April that ousted Kurmanbek Bakiyev

The new constitution paves the way for Kyrgyzstan to be declared a parliamentary republic, with a president's powers being largely devolved to parliament.

The referendum was held just two weeks after violent clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbek ethnic groups in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad. Officials say some 200 people were killed in the conflict, although observers believe the death toll could be 10 times that. An estimated 400,000 people - many of them from the minority ethnic Uzbek community - were displaced.

What has been the international reaction to referendum plans?

The referendum was supported by the UN, the US and Russia, as a step towards restoring democracy.

However, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said a parliamentary system could be too weak for Kyrgyzstan, and fuel further instability and "extremism".

The International Crisis Group (ICG), which monitors conflicts around the world, as well as several Kyrgyz non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and opposition politicians called for the vote to be postponed.

The ICG said it failed "to see how a referendum was possible when many of its citizens, including a sizeable proportion of ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyz, are living without shelter."

What is at stake?

The provisional government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, came into power after an uprising in April 2010 that deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who is in self-exile in Belarus. Mr Bakiyev claims that he is still the legitimate president but Ms Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister, says he signed a letter of resignation before leaving the country.

The new government needed the referendum to gain legitimacy and press ahead with reform plans.

Shortly after the change of power, the provisional government dismissed the Constitutional Court, mandated to oversee the constitutionality of legal acts, and transferred its powers to the Supreme Court.

"All this time the Constitutional Court has defied the constitution, backing the interests of the families of [former President Askar] Akayev and [ousted President Kurmanbek] Bakiyev," deputy interim president Azimbek Beknazarov was quoted as saying by AKIpress.

The new constitution paves the way for the Kyrgyz government to hold parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2011 and allow it to gain formal diplomatic recognition from other countries.

What else is proposed in the draft constitution?

Under the new constitution, the president will serve a single six-year term in office rather than a maximum of two five-year terms.

The maximum age limit for a serving president will be increased by five years to 70. Roza Otunbayeva will remain interim president until 31 December 2011, but will not be entitled to run for president again.

The number of seats in parliament will increase from 90 to 120. No single political party will be allowed to win more than 65 seats. Nobody will face criminal action for criticising officials. Opposition will no longer need official permission to hold protests outside administrative buildings and central squares across the country.

The Constitutional Court will be abolished and its powers will be transferred to the Supreme Court.

Who are the supporters of the new constitution?

Three key parties - Ata-Meken, Social Democratic Party and Ak Shumkar - represented in the interim government and their allies, such as Uluu Birimdik, Erkindik and Ar-Namys, supported the constitutional reforms. They say the amendments will put an end to corruption and nepotism in government.

According to the deputy president of the interim government, Omurbek Tekebayev, the new constitution will prevent the concentration of power in one "set of hands". The president "will not enjoy immunity and his family will not be subsidised by the state. The head of state will live on his own salary," he was quoted as saying by 24 kg news agency.

Ms Otunbayeva said on national TV: "Kyrgyzstan will become a parliamentary republic. The opposition will have its deserved place in parliament. It will be given the key parliamentary committee on budget and finance... The president will certainly have powers, but parliament will be a decision-making body in the country."

What do its critics say?

Opponents, including acting Defence Minister Ismail Isakov say a parliamentary form of government is alien to the "Kyrgyz mentality and spirit".

Ex-security council head Miroslav Niyazov says Kyrgyzstan has not matured enough to be declared a parliamentary republic. In his opinion "mob rule" rather than democracy holds sway in Kyrgyzstan and the country has weak political parties and undeveloped market economy.

Several NGOs and politicians have also voiced concern at the bundling of three different issues in one vote.

How did the voting system work?

The Central Electoral Commission set up over 2,000 polling stations across Kyrgyzstan and about 40 abroad. Over 2.7m of Kyrgyzstan's 5.3m population registered to vote. Turnout was put at about 70%. The practice of marking voters' fingers with ink was reinstated as a safeguard against possible multiple voting.

The UN provided financial and technical support to Kyrgyzstan to hold the referendum.

The voters were asked a single question: "Do you adopt the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on enacting the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic which were put to the referendum as drafted by the interim government". To which the voters either answer "Yes" or "No".

Who are the observers?

Two Kyrgyz NGOs - the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society and Taza Shailoo (Fair Election) - observed the referendum.

Several international organisations, including the CIS Inter parliamentary Assembly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the National Democratic Institute, the OSCE as well as the central electoral commissions of Russia and Kazakhstan sent observers.

However, the OSCE withdrew its 300 long-term observers from Osh and Jalalabad regions due to security concerns. It sent 300 short-term observers to Kyrgyzstan.

What about security?

Stringent security measures were in place at polling stations, particularly in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad, which are still under a night-time curfew, as well as in Bishkek where unidentified groups threatened to spread the violence.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization has approved an aid plan to Kyrgyzstan, which includes armoured vehicles and helicopters that will be used in maintaining security in the country's south.

What happens next?

Roza Otunbayeva will be inaugurated as a caretaker president and form a government. Kyrgyzstan will hold parliamentary elections in October and presidential elections by the end of 2011.

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