Kyrgyzstan holds vote to change constitution

December 11, 2016
Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev, right, greets an elderly woman as she arrives to vote at a polling station in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots in a constitutional referendum that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister. (Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service Pool Photo via AP)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Kyrgyzstan has held a referendum on implementing changes to its constitution, including amendments to strengthen the office of prime minister.

With almost 100 percent of ballots counted, 79.6 percent of voters supported the changes and about 15 percent voted against, Kyrgyzstan’s Central Election Commission said Sunday.

Turnout in the Central Asia nation was 42 percent, according to election officials. A 30 percent turnout was required for the vote to stand.

Political infighting before the referendum, which required one simple “yes” or “no” answer to a packet of 26 constitutional alterations, had fueled fears of a new round of instability in the impoverished ex-Soviet state of 6 million on China’s mountainous western frontier. Kyrgyzstan has seen the violent overthrow of two presidents since gaining independence in 1991.

President Almazbek Atambayev’s critics have claimed the result could allow him to move into the prime minister’s seat, while retaining much of his power, after his current term as president ends next year. Atambayev has repeatedly denied plans to seek another elected office.

The new amendments will allow the prime minister to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and regional governors without consulting the president. The prime minister will also have a crucial say in shaping the government budget and an enhanced role in military and law-enforcement decision-making.

Atambayev’s supporters cast the amendments as part of efforts to increase the power of parliament and strengthen checks and balances between branches of government.

The changes will also see marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman, effectively banning same-sex marriages in the mostly Muslim country.

Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly altered its constitution by referendum since the end of the Soviet Union, most recently in 2010 when a popular vote handed more power to parliament and curbed the authority of the president.

Kyrgyzstan used to host a U.S. air base that supported military operations in Afghanistan, but it evicted the U.S. in 2014. It still hosts a Russian air base and is part of a Moscow-dominated economic and security alliance of ex-Soviet nations.

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