Kyrgyzstan held on October 17 a national referendum on changes to the constitution, initiated by President Askar Akaev. Preliminary returns issued by the Central Electoral Commission indicate that the turnout was high and that the electorate has overwhelmingly approved the changes.
The amendments and supplements to the constitution would enable Akaev to extend his tenure of office, substantially strengthen the president’s powers at the expense of the legislature, transfer most of the power of the purse from parliament to the executive branch, abolish parliamentary immunity (a measure described as intended to facilitate prosecution of corrupt legislators), and forbid censorship of the mass media.
In the economic sphere, a momentous change for Kyrgyzstan concerns the introduction of private ownership of land. According to the presidential team, this proposal was mostly responsible for the high turnout and the high “yes” vote. A coalition of opposition parties and interest groups of various colors, but mostly leftist, had attempted to mobilize resistance to the referendum. They opposed both the land reform and the concentration of power in presidential hands. The authorities, however, banned protest rallies which the opposition had called in Bishkek, Jalalabad and other cities (Russian and international agencies, October 17, 18).–VS
CANDIDATES EMERGE FOR EARLY JANUARY 1999 ELECTIONS.