BISHKEK. Kyrgyz citizens have approved constitutional reforms in a referendum that also confirmed President Askar Akayev's stay in office.
The Central Election Commission said today that according to preliminary results, over 75 percent supported constitutional reforms in the referendum yesterday. The reforms would replace the two-chamber parliament with a single chamber. There are new clauses on the newly established position of Ombudsman and also on future ex-president's inviolability statute.
Nearly 79 percent of voters also said "yes" to a question whether Akayev should stay in office until the end of his term in December 2005.
The Central Election Commission said over 86 percent of the 2.5 million eligible voters had cast ballots. But the opposition said turnout was only 40 percent, below the 50 percent threshold for the referendum to be valid. Jypar Jekshe, deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's Public Referendum Headquarters (an opposition bloc set up to monitor yesterday's constitutional referendum), told RFE/RL earlier today in Bishkek: "For the whole of Kyrgyzstan, about 40 percent of eligible voters came to the polls. In Bishkek, it was not higher than 30 percent."
There are some controversial figures on attendance of voters in the Aksy district of the Jalalabad region. Opposition said that about 20 percent of the Aksy voters came to the polls, but the local authorities rejected it, saying that about 60 percent of the district voters had cast ballots.
Yesterday, President Akayev said the constitutional reforms would strengthen democracy: "Kyrgyzstan is the first country of the CIS member states to adopt a stable constitution for a stable epoch. I think we will strengthen democracy in our country. We will create good conditions in order to protect human rights and the freedom of the people [by adopting the new version of the constitution]." The representatives of the CIS member-countries and some foreign embassies based in Bishkek, praised the plebiscite outcome as a fair and without main irregularities.
The Kyrgyz opposition says the reforms would increase the powers of the president at the expense of parliament. Party list was also omitted as a means of election to the parliament.
The United States and human rights organizations also have criticized the draft. The U.S. has expressed concerns over the timing of the referendum, held only 20 days after it was announced.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declined to send observers from abroad.