Kyrgyzstan held its seventh constitutional referendum in a democratic reversal

Wed 14 Dec 2016

Kyrgyzstan held its seventh constitutional referendum in a democratic reversal
On 11 December Kyrgyzstan approved constitutional amendments in a national referendum, held next to the local elections. It’s the seventh constitutional referendum in 25 years of Kyrgyz independence. The previous was held in June 2010, when the current constitution was approved, which established a parliamentary system for the first time in Central Asia. It also contained a clause that no further changes would be made until 2020. The amendments, according to their authors - allies of the current President Almazbek Atambayev - aim to strengthen the power of the Prime Minister, as well as to balance out all branches of state power and reinforce the position of the Parliament. The opposition expects that the post of a Prime Minister will be occupied by Atambayev after his term ends in 2017. The current constitution prevents the President from running for the second time. Atambayev denies such intentions and says that changes are meant to prevent future dictatorships in Kyrgyzstan. Some suggest that he will stay in power as a “shadow king” and install a loyal Prime Minister. The introduced amendments grant Prime Minister the power to appoint and dismiss the government and regional governors without consulting the President, with the approval of the Parliament. Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s say will be decisive when shaping the national budget. Amendments also introduce a ban on same-sex marriages. These changes have been subject to harsh criticism by civil rights’ groups. 79.6% of Kyrgyz citizens approved the amendments package – the turnout was 42%. The voters couldn’t vote for twenty six amendments individually – it was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ for the whole package.

Other amendments

Among other amendments is the one that concerns Article 41 (2) of the Constitution, which says: "Everyone shall have the right to apply in accordance with international treaties to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms." The amendment removed the formulation that followed: "In the event that these bodies confirm the violation of human rights and freedoms, the Kyrgyz Republic shall take measures to their restoration and/or compensation of damage." Amendment to Article 50 (2) allowed Kyrgyz authorities to revoke citizenship in certain cases.

Article 73 now provides that the Prime Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister will keep their deputy mandates and be able to vote in plenary sessions. In the event that either of these two officials resigns, is dismissed, or for whatever reason ceases to carry out the duties of their posts, "their deputy powers are restored in full”.

Local elections

According to the preliminary results, announced by the Central Election Commission on 13 December, five parties passed the 7% threshold to the local councils: Social Democratic Party - 24.89%, Respublika - Ata Jurt – 23%, Onuguu-Progress - 15.2%, Mekenim Kyrgyzstan - 13.03% and Kyrgyzstan - 9.34%


Omurbek Tekebayev, a leader of the Ata-Meken party, which was excluded from the coalition in October 2016, called for Atambayev’s impeachment and gathered supporting signatures.

Azmat Adilov, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a group of Kyrgyz NGOs, said the buying of votes was an issue, referendum was unfair and administrative resources were used.

The chairperson of the Central Election Commission Nurzhan Shayldabekova pronounced the referendum and elections to local councils in Kyrgyzstan open, free and democratic: "We have shown that the new electoral model brings us closer to a true democracy. But we still have a lot of work on improving electoral legislation. We have made every effort for fair elections and a free voting. The voters themselves decided the fate of the referendum and local elections."

A biometric identification equipment has been used this time and in 3 300 cases it failed to recognize the fingerprints of Kyrgyz citizens. Shayldabeckova said that it didn’t have an impact on referendum and local election results. Deputy Chairperson of Aalam party Zhyldyzkan Dzholdoshova said that the results of the elections, conducted with the use of automatically reading devices, can be programmed. Aalam party members stated that the elections were unfair and conducted with many violations.

International observers

OSCE didn’t send an observers mission to Kyrgyzstan motivating it with the lack of funds. OSCE issued a joint statement with the Council of Europe back in August saying that the amendments will shift the balance of power by strengthening the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. The statement also said that some amendments could weaken Kyrgyzstan’s commitment to human rights and freedoms.

The referendum was monitored by observers from Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as the Commonwealth of Independent States, who praised the vote and called it open and transparent.

Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Ukraine Mykhailo Ohendovsky, who was head of Ukrainian observer mission to Kyrgyzstan, said that Ukraine will also introduce computer-aided control system in its elections based on Kyrgyzstan’s experience.

Sources: Euronews Daily Sabah IntelliNews RFE/RL TOL The Diplomat AKIpress