Kyrgyz voters back constitutional amendments in referendum

Kyrgyz voters back constitutional amendments in referendum
President Almazbek Atambayev says changes are aimed at stop future dictatorships in Kyrgyzstan. / Photo: CC
By bne IntelliNews December 12, 2016

Some 80% of the Kyrgyz voters that cast ballots in a referendum on December 11 backed constitutional changes that would strengthen the powers of the prime minister against that of the presidency.

Voter turnout was 42%, the Central Election Commission said. The constitutional fiddle proposed by allies of President Almazbek Atambayev led to belief among critics that the changes are aimed at getting Atambayev into the prime minister’s post when his term ends in 2017. Atambayev, 60, has denied such speculations and instead has claimed the changes would help Kyrgyzstan avoid “second Bakiyevs”. That refers not only to autocratic Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was driven out of power via a revolution in 2010, but also to Askar Akayev, whose regime was similarly toppled in 2005.

Political stability in the mostly Muslim country with a population of 6mn, could be threatened if Atambayev attempts to stay in power. There are suggestions, however, that he is not seeking to become a prime minister but to stay in power as a “shadow king” by installing his own loyal prime minister.

The constitutional amendments also echo with a general direction Kyrgyzstan, once hailed as an “island of democracy”, appears to be heading in. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe said in a joint comment in August that the proposed amendments would shift the balance of power by strengthening the executive at the expense of parliament and the judiciary. In the same comment, the two institutions said that other amendments could weaken the former Soviet republic's commitment to international treaties on human rights and freedoms.

In a sign that Kyrgyzstan is moving away from the democracy path, the parliament approved a bill that seeks to ban foreign individuals and organisations from owning and establishing media outlets in the country. The country has recently said it will downgrade the status of the local office of the OSCE after the human rights watchdog angered Bishkek by inviting an outspoken critic of the government to a conference. 

The referendum has garnered much hostility toward Atambayev, including from Omurbek Tekebayev, the head of the Ata-Meken party which was forced out of the ruling coalition in October. Tekebayev has since called for Atambayev’s impeachment, gathering signatures to show public support.

Even if the parliament passes a bill on Atambayev’s impeachment, his post-presidential plans are now unlikely to be hampered following the vote. 

Atambayev, a businessman turned opposition politician, served as prime minister in the interim government of 2010 following the country’s second revolution. Back then he was among the politicians who helped bring the existing constitution to life. 

Kyrgyzstan has had three constitutions since gaining independence: the original 1993 post-independence document, a constitution passed by referendum in 2007, and the present constitution passed by referendum in 2010.