The draft constitution will reduce the size of the Kyrgyz parliament and give the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement.
Voters in Kyrgyzstan went to the polls on Sunday for a widely anticipated constitutional referendum to see President Sadyr Japarov’s powers extended while allowing him to run for office a second time.
Japarov, a 52-year-old populist, has sidelined political opponents since coming to power following an October political crisis in which he was first released by supporters, starting a dizzying rise in The direction.
He confirmed his dominance by posting a landslide victory in a presidential election in January. In a parallel poll, voters also indicated a preference for the presidential regime over the parliamentary regime, reinforcing its willingness to revise the constitution.
Japarov’s proposed amendments promise a presidency in line with Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asian neighbors, ending a ten-year experiment with a mixed system. The proposed new constitution would reduce the size of the country’s parliament from 25 percent to 90 seats and give the president the power to appoint judges and law enforcement chiefs.
Japarov and his supporters hope that the strengthening of the presidency will make the country more stable after its leaders were toppled by violent revolts in 2005, 2010 and 2020.
But local critics called the draft document a “khanstitution” for its expansion of presidential powers.
Emil Dzhuraev, a Bishkek-based political analyst, said the proposed changes would centralize power within the president’s office. “So much so that basically no institution at the national level can do anything without the participation or approval of the president,” Dzhuraev told Al Jazeera.
In Bishkek, small business owner Dukot Yyndybaev told Al Jazeera that the reforms could be a step backwards on the road to full democracy.
“The Kyrgyz people have a strong will for freedom,” he said. “We do not tolerate any retreat from democracy. There are more serious problems to be solved in the country than the constitutional referendum, such as unemployment. It is better not to destroy what we have achieved so far. “
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission have also criticized the lack of “meaningful and inclusive public consultations and debates in parliament” before the basic law was passed. presented to the people in a joint opinion published in March.
The two bodies have also raised fears of “the too important role and prerogatives of the President”.
Last year, Japarov was serving a prison sentence for kidnapping a regional governor amid a gold mine dispute when he was released by protesters who challenged the results of the October parliamentary elections.
Immediately after his release, Japarov mobilized stone-throwing supporters to expel President Sooronbay Jeenbekov from office, then took over as the country’s interim leader. His sentence has since been quashed.
A recent poll by the United States-based International Republican Institute showed Japarov to be by far the most trusted politician in the country.
The percentage of voters who thought Kyrgyzstan was going in the right direction rose from 41% last August – when Jeenbekov was in charge – to 70% in February and March, according to poll data.
If voters back the draft constitution, presidents, including Japarov, will again be able to run in consecutive elections, overturning the one-term limit imposed on leaders in a basic law overhaul in 2010.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key ally, expressed support for the constitutional campaign in February when Japarov visited Moscow on his first overseas visit, saying he hoped it would bring stability to the country of 6.5 million inhabitants.
Voting in the referendum began at 02:00 GMT and will end at 14:00 GMT with results expected shortly after polling closes. A participation rate of 30% is required to validate the election.