Monday, November 29, 1999

Q+A - Kyrgyz referendum: a new mandate or doomed to fail?

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Kyrgyzstan's interim government plans a June 27 referendum on constitutional reform.Organising such a vote in the aftermath of violent ethnic clashes in the south will be a difficult task for the leaders of the strategic Central Asian state, which borders China and hosts U.S. and Russian military bases.Following are some questions and answers on the referendum.WHY DOES THE INTERIM GOVERNMENT WANT A REFERENDUM?Kyrgyzstan's interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, quickly seized power after an April 7 uprising that overthrew president Kurmanbek Bakiyev.The interim government needs public support for its reforms to achieve legitimacy. While it proposes changes to make Kyrgyzstan more democratic, it has never been voted in.A vote in favour of constitutional change would give the interim government a mandate to proceed with its plans and would probably be viewed favourably by the international community.Public support would also, in theory at least, grant the interim leaders extra power to govern the south of the country, the scene of ethnic bloodshed. In such circumstances, even holding the referendum would be viewed as a success.But in reality, the government has struggled to gain control of the south, Bakiyev's political stronghold.WILL THE REFERENDUM TAKE PLACE?Advertisements run frequently on local television channels to remind people of the June 27 voting date.The government says the referendum will take place unless the entire country is at war or in a state of emergency, or regions whose combined population is more than half of the total electorate are in a state of emergency.Osh and Jalalabad, two of the southern regions currently in a state of emergency, are among the most densely populated areas of Kyrgyzstan. But their combined population is less than half of the national total.The state of emergency in both regions expires automatically on June 22 and officials said they would review the security situation then to decide whether to extend it.This means the government would only cancel or postpone the vote should it declare a state of emergency in other regions.WHAT WILL PEOPLE BE VOTING FOR?The ballot paper will ask one simple yes-or-no question: Do you support the new constitution?The interim government has published the draft constitution on its website, www. the Bakiyev-designed constitution, it defines mainly Muslim Kyrgyzstan as a secular state -- but the draft declares Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary republic, meaning the prime minister would assume more power than the president.The referendum will pave the way for Kyrgyzstan's government to hold parliamentary and presidential elections and gain formal diplomatic recognition from other countries.The draft limits the president to a single six-year term in office. Parliamentary elections will be held every five years.Otunbayeva would remain interim president until Dec. 31, 2011 and would not be entitled to run for election as president.The constitution would increase the number of seats in parliament to 120 from 90. No single political party would be allowed to control more than 65 seats.HOW WILL THE REFERENDUM BE ORGANISED?The government says it has printed 2.7 million ballot papers ahead of the vote. They will be delivered to polling stations around the country two days before the referendum.It will be difficult, if not impossible, to administer and collect ballot papers in strife-torn southern regions.Witnesses on the ground say some Uzbek communities in Osh, where some of the worst violence took place, are effectively closed to outsiders. Residents have shot at emergency vehicles.Without the ethnic Uzbek vote -- a voice that represents approximately half of the population in Osh -- there would be question marks over the legitimacy of the entire referendum.WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE REFERENDUM?Murat Ryskulov, 54, a civil servant in Bishkek: "I intend to vote so the country can develop, so we don't end up with the kind of regimes we had in the past. The new constitution will open the door to a new democratic world."Temir, 20, student in Bishkek: "I will not go. I have better things to do. I am against the interim government because they have unleashed this war. There was no war under Bakiyev."Viktor Alekseyevich, businessman in Bishkek: "I don't know what they are asking (in the referendum). Something about the interim president, parliament. I don't know. But the referendum should be held. That will give us some clarity."(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Almaty)

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