Thu, 13 May 2021

Kyrgyzstan's voters head to the polls on April 11 to decide on whether to approve a new constitution that would expand the power of the president and weaken parliament.

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 Central Asian 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.

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

Under the proposed changes, the president would assume authority to appoint almost all judges and heads of law enforcement agencies. The current law allowing a president only one term would be scrapped in favor of opening the post up for 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 way for the president to exert more power.

The proposed new constitution would also reduce the size of parliament from 120 to 90 seats. A Constitutional Council will also be created.

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 Central Asian 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.'

Preliminary results of the vote are expected to be announced late on April 11. 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.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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