By Maia Machavariani, PhD student at Dublin City University
On December 11, 2016 Kyrgyzstan held both local Kenesh (council) elections and a national referendum to approve 26 revisions to Kyrgyzstan’s constitution. According to the Central Election Commission proposed amendments were approved by 80 percent of the Kyrgyz citizens and over 42 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls. The voters were being asked to approve the amendments with a simple “yes-or-no” vote. 
Since the adoption of the country’s original post-communist constitution in May 1993, the current Kyrgyzstani Constitution has undergone seven amendments, mainly to strengthen the powers of the ruling political elite. The previous referendum was held in June 2010, establishing a parliamentary system for the first time in Central Asia, and containing a provision that forbade changes to this system before 2020.
The proposed constitutional amendments include provisions granting more powers to the cabinet and to leaders of parliamentary factions, as well as enhancing the Prime Minister’s authority, giving significant influence over the legislature, such as the power to appoint and dismiss the government without consulting the President or powers over shaping the government budget. The amendments also include changes to the judicial branch, with the significant weakening of the Constitutional Chamber, violation of human rights through supremacy of supreme system of values as well as introducing a ban on same-sex marriage.
The referendum and the constitutional validity of the proposed amendments has been subject to harsh criticism from the opposition groups, civil society and the legal community, generating speculation that the pro-Kremlin leader whose single-term mandate expires in 2017, is planning to retain his influence by becoming the prime minister instead or at least appoint a Social Democrat politician who would be under his influence.
Active opposition figures from the Interim Government of 2010 – the former President Roza Otunbaeva and the leader of the Ata-meken party Omurbek Tekebaev, which was excluded from the coalition in October 2016 – called for Atambayev’s impeachment and condemned any constitutional amendments before 1 September 2020, as per existing legal requirements.. Azmat Adilov, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a group of Kyrgyz NGOs, also noted that the “referendum on constitutional amendments was not fair and administrative resources were used”. 
In a joint statement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe addressed the recent amendments emphasizing the lack of procedural clarity, noting that “proposed amendments to the Constitution would negatively impact the balance of powers by strengthening the powers of the executive, while weakening both the parliament and, to a greater extent, the judiciary and may undermine certain human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as the Commonwealth of Independent States, both of which are primarily composed of post-Soviet autocracies, described the referendum as open and transparent, held in accordance with the constitutional law of Kyrgyzstan and international obligations.
The passing of the referendum and results of the local elections should be a wakeup call for the political opposition in Kyrgyzstan, as recent political developments appear to be a prelude to a further consolidation of power by President Atambaev and his Social Democratic Party, undermining the political pluralism that has distinguished Kyrgyzstan from its authoritarian neighbours
 Catherine Putz, “Kyrgyz Soundly Pass Constitutional Changes in Referendum”, The Diplomat, December 13.2016.
 RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service, “Kyrgyz Voters Back Amendments On Same-Sex Marriage, Presidential Power”, December 11, 2016.
 The next Presidential Election in Kyrgyzstan in schedules for October 2017.
 Anna Kooushenko, “Ex Ministri vremenovo proviteltvo potrebovali publichnih izvinenii of Atambaeva”, Kloop Media, August 31, 2016
 European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, “Kyrgyzstan Held its Seventh Constitutional Referendum in a Democratic Reversal”, December 14, 2016.
 European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), “Kyrgyz Republic Preliminary Joint Opinion on the Draft Law “ON INTRODUCTION OF AMENDMENTS AND CHANGES TO THE CONSTITUTION”, August 29, 2016.
 Asia pacific Edition, International observers: Kyrgyzstan’s referendum on constitutional amendments open,transparent, December 12, 2016
The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CASPIAN or the universities affiliated to the project.