Kyrgyzstan backs new constitution in controversial vote

28th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Voters in Kyrgyzstan overwhelmingly backed a new constitution in a controversial referendum slammed by Russia as risking a resurgence of unrest after deadly ethnic clashes, according to results Monday.

More than 90 percent of voters in Sunday's referendum backed the new charter that would set up ex-Soviet Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy, according to preliminary results based on more than 99 percent of electoral districts.

But opposition leaders said the figures were impossibly high given the fallout from this month's ethnic violence that left hundreds of people dead.

Just 8.0 percent voted against, on the back of a mass turnout of 69.5 percent, according to the results.

The vote was hailed as a "victory" by the new Kyrgyz government of interim leader Roza Otunbayeva which came to power last April amid bloody riots that ousted former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

"The people have put a full stop on the epoch of the authoritarian, family rule of the previous regimes," Otunbayeva said in a statement.

The new constitution will slash the powers of the president and set the stage for parliamentary elections that authorities have scheduled for early September to bring in a permanent government.

Otunbayeva will serve as president until 2011 elections.

Several observers had warned that the poll was recklessly premature, coming just two weeks after fighting between majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks killed hundreds of people in the country's south.

"I highly doubt that the central election commission's data reflects the real picture," said Adakhan Madumarov, leader of the Batun Kyrgyzstan party and loyal to Bakiyev.

Liberal former interior minister and chief of the Ata-Zhurt opposition party Omurbek Suvanaliyev called the figures "fantastical" and accused the interim government of "massive falsification" in the registration of voters.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- who has stung Bishkek by warning over the past weeks the country risked breaking-up -- was also less than enthusiastic about the outcome.

"I have a hard time imagining that a parliamentary republic could work in Kyrgyzstan, that it won't provoke a series of problems and encourage the rise to power of extremist forces," Medvedev told reporters at the G20 summit.

Russia's foreign ministry offered measured praise for the vote late Monday, saying it took place "without any excesses" and noting a "rather high" voter turnout.

"We would like to hope that the referendum will facilitate political stability in friendly Kyrgyzstan," it said in a statement.

Most of ex-Soviet Central Asia is ruled by authoritarian leaders, many of whom who have been in power without interruption since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kyrgyzstan's political volatility -- which has seen two regimes fall in popular uprisings in the space of a half-decade -- has always been the exception.

Fear of further conflict and fatigue from the violence seemed to be major factors driving the unexpectedly high turnout.

"Almost everyone voted because without legitimacy there is no government and because they want peace and stability," said Raikhan Samidinova, an ethnic Kyrgyz musician in Osh.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe praised Kyrgyzstan's interim government for its handling of the vote, despite evidence of "shortcomings" in the poll.

OSCE observers witnessed that voters were not always checked against multiple voting, and that "the counting and tabulation were assessed less positively," it said in a press release.

The clashes killed 294 people according to the latest toll, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. At least 75,000 fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan but all of these have now returned, authorities said.

Victims have told AFP the violence was an orchestrated campaign by armed Kyrgyz militias targeting Uzbeks, who make up about 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population of 5.3 million.

Officials have warned the true death toll could have been as high as 2,000.

© 2010 AFP

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