Wed, 23 Jun 2021

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has signed into law a bill on constitutional amendments approved by a nationwide referendum last month that has been criticized by his opponents as a move to concentrate more powers in his hands.

The signing ceremony held on May 5 started with a minute of silence to commemorate 36 Kyrgyz nationals killed in last week's clashes along a disputed segment of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border.

Japarov addressed the nation after the signing ceremony, calling the April 28-29 violence along the border 'an attempt to violate Kyrgyzstan's territorial integrity' and vowing to assist affected villages to get back to normal as soon as possible.

'None of presidents before me faced economic problems of the current proportions. I inherited a devastated economy, a state treasury with a deficit of 20 billion soms ($236 million),' Japarov said, adding that despite 'economic hardships that have deepened due to pandemic crisis,' he will do 'everything I can to revive economy and business activities.'

Kyrgyz citizens approved the bill on constitutional amendments on April 11, but the full text of the amended constitution is yet to be made public.

The new constitution reduces the size of parliament by 25 percent to 90 seats and gives the president the power to appoint judges and heads of law enforcement agencies. It also calls for establishing 'a consultative and coordinating body' that would be controlled by the president. Critics say it could act as a parallel parliament and a way for the president to exert more power.

The referendum came three months after Japarov was elected president following a tumultuous period that saw the ouster of the previous government amid protests over October parliamentary elections and months of political wrangling over the future of the Central Asian country.

Japarov proposed drafting a new constitution in November 2020 as he emerged from the turmoil as acting president in the wake of the resignation of then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

He easily won the presidential election in January, while a referendum held in tandem saw voters opt for a presidential system that was the centerpiece of the proposed constitutional amendments.

Some in the former Soviet republic have criticized Japarov, saying the new constitution was being rushed through to create an authoritarian system while concentrating too much power into the hands of the president.

Japarov was among several prominent politicians freed from prison by protesters during the October unrest. He had been serving a 10-year prison sentence for hostage-taking during a protest against a mining operation in northeast Kyrgyzstan in October 2013. He maintains the charges against him were politically motivated.

May 5 has been marked in the country as the Constitution Day since the first constitution was approved by the parliament of independent Kyrgyzstan on that day in 1993.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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