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27 Jun, 2010 04:32

Kyrgyzstan votes in favor of new constitution and interim president

Final results coming out of Kyrgyzstan showed a landslide vote in favor of a new constitution. Kyrgyzstan's interim leader, Rosa Otunbaeva, declared Sunday's vote a great success.

She said the people had shown their support for turning the country into a parliamentary state – the first in the Central Asian region.

"The people have put an end to the era of totalitarian family rule," Otunbaeva said. "The new constitution will create a legal barrier in the way of curruption, will help destroy years' old schemes of stealing people's money. The citizens of Kyrgyzstan voted for democracy for a new country."

The referendum asked the Kyrgyz people if they want to adopt a new constitution and if they want their country to become a parliamentary state.

Over 90% proved to be in favor of the new constitution.

If implemented, the reforms will give the president less authority and make Kyrgyzstan the first republic in Central Asia with political power in the hands of parliament.

Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed skepticism over the viability of such a system of governance, and warned that it could give power to extremist groups.

“This is Kyrgyzstan's internal affair,” Medvedev said. “It is a sovereign state. But taking into account that even now there isn't enough authority to restore order, I have a hard time imagining how a parliamentary republic would work in Kyrgyzstan and whether it will provoke a series of problems, and finally encourage the rise to power of extremist forces. Kyrgyzstan is now facing the threat of it breaking up, and it needs a strong, well-organized authority to prevent this. We're concerned about this because Kyrgyzstan is our neighbor and a strategic partner.”

Political analysts share the same concerns.

“If a new government adheres to the old scheme of clan relations and family rule, we won't move far,” political expert Toktogul Kakchekeev said. “It can be either a president or the parliament, but it can nevertheless be the same system – the one based on family relations. All our problems and conflicts have stemmed from this system.”

“We cannot expect politicians and people to change overnight,” said Ivan Safranchuk from the Moscow State University of International Relations. “It is very easy to make a referendum within one day, but it is much more difficult to make people change their mentality and traditions. So there is a big risk that the country will be governed in the same way – although now people will pretend that now they have a parliamentary and not a presidential republic. And I think it will be the worst, because the instability will come back.”

But any change is for the better, Stanislav Kucher, a political commentator for Kommersant’s FM radio station, told RT.

“The conflict had originally been set up on the basis of whether they are going to have a presidential republic or another political form because [Kyrgyz people] needed a change,” he said. “And now when they got this change, it will, at least for the time being, stop the violence.”

The referendum comes just two weeks after deadly clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in the south of the country.

The interim government, which came into being in April after former Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted following a bloody uprising, is pinning its hopes on the referendum to earn legitimacy in the country and in the international community.

The citizens had to vote for or against the draft constitution proposed by the interim government. In addition, the public had to say whether they support its head, Rosa Otunbaeva, as interim president until the end of the transition period on December 31, 2011.

“The people today are voting for stability in Kyrgyzstan, for legitimate power. A lot is being said about the country being divided, that the country is on the brink of disaster, but today at the referendum people want to prove that the country is united,” Rosa Otunbaeva said on Sunday.

The turnout was more than 70% across the country, which is a high figure taking into account the level of distrust toward the interim government, especially in the south. When asked about why they came to the polling station, most people made no mention of the Constitution. It turns out that very few know the difference between a parliamentary and presidential republic, and instead locals think it is a vote for peace and stability.

“I think it raises questions about the extent to which this can really be said to be a sort of an all-national, as it claims to be, legitimizing referendum,” says Professor Madeleine Reeves from Manchester University.

“I think the provisional government faced a very hard choice in terms of conducting this referendum or not. The motivating reason for them was a fear that not to hold a referendum would be even more destabilizing,” she added.

In the southern city of Osh, where recent ethnic clashes killed hundreds and left thousands displaced, many of the Uzbeks boycotted the referendum. They say they do not understand why they should support the interim government which failed to defend them from ethnic violence.

As for those Uzbeks that were willing to vote, they did not risk leaving their neighborhood. Moreover, many did not even know where the polling stations were located.

Security has been stepped up in Kyrgyzstan. Around 8,000 policemen, 2,000 servicemen and 7,500 police volunteers have been patrolling the polling stations and places of mass gatherings.