U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Washington is becoming increasingly wary of the constitutional reform process under way in Kyrgyzstan. He expressed particular concern that the referendum could further concentrate power in the presidency and weaken the role of civil society.
In reference to the timing of the referendum, Boucher said there has not been enough public debate in Kyrgyzstan about the proposed constitutional changes. But Boucher did n-o-t say outright that it should be postponed.
On January 13, President Askar Akayev announced February 2 as the date for the referendum on amending the Kyrgyz constitution.
In the referendum voters will be called on to approve or reject proposed changes to the new version of the constitution. The most important of those changes are: the abolition of a two-chamber parliament; the abolition of party list voting for parliament; and a newly proposed immunity from prosecution of former presidents and their families.
Rather than voting on the changes individually, voters must either approve or reject them wholesale. They must also say whether they want President Akayev to remain in office until his presidential term ends in December 2005.
International organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have expressed their concern that the timing of the referendum was too rushed.
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued a statement on January 24, saying that the interval between the actual announcement and the date set for the referendum was too short to enable it to prepare and deploy an observation mission. ODIHR further advised the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to postpone the referendum in order to permit further consultations on the proposed amendments and to make possible international observation of the voting.
Among international human rights organizations which have concerned on the referendum shortcomings in Kyrgyzstan, are the International League For Human Rights, International Helsinki Federation For Human Rights and World Organisation Against Torture.
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov yesterday rejected arguments that it is too soon to hold the referendum.