Kyrgyz Voters Approve Constitutional Amendments: What Does it Mean for the Kyrgyz Republic?
On April 11, Kyrgyzstan held a referendum on constitutional amendments that would greatly expand the power of the presidency. Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Nurzhan Shayldabekova said on April 12 that 79.3 percent voted in favor of the changes with just 13.65 percent voting against them. In order for the referendum to be approved, 30 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s eligible voters needed to participate, and preliminary polling results show that 37.1 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. A slightly larger percentage of eligible voters – about 39 percent – participated in the January presidential elections, in which Japarov won the presidency.
Under the revised constitution, the president will have the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies and will be allowed to run for reelection to a second term. The size of the parliament will be reduced from 120 seats to 90. Additionally, a People’s Kurultai will be formed as a “consultative and coordinating” body which will exist under the president’s jurisdiction. The formation of a new assembly directly under the president’s control could help to undermine the power of Kyrgyzstan’s previously independent parliament. Another change that also has the possibility of reducing the influence of the parliament is that the president will now have the power to call referendums. Previously, half the members of parliament or a public petition with 300,000 signatures could invoke a referendum. Not only do the changes to the constitution give the president sweeping powers, but they also appear to reduce the authority of parliament.
Concerns have also been raised regarding a vague provision in the new constitution that would place restrictions on anything perceived to oppose “generally recognized moral values” and “the public consciousness of the people of the Kyrgyz Republic.” Some journalists and advocacy groups have interpreted this change to more easily allow for targeted censorship and minority suppression.
Japarov has rejected concerns over constitutional changes, stating that Kyrgyzstan will “remain a democratic country” and that the new constitution would help to establish order in the country. He also stated that over the past 30 years numerous changes had been made to the constitution, many of which were copied from other countries’ constitutions. However, this time the new changes were developed independently from outside sources with the help of about 100 Kyrgyz experts.
Despite Japarov’s reassurances, independent organizations have questioned the stability of Kyrgyzstan’s democracy. In Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom in the World report, Kyrgyzstan dropped 11 points, causing it to fall from the “partly free” classification to “not free” category, along with the other Central Asian countries. With Japarov’s swift rise to power, coupled with the successful referendum handing him more authority than previous Kyrgyz presidents, it is likely that democratization and reform efforts will become more difficult. Satisfaction with Japarov’s newly granted authority may be put to the test in the next parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2021.