Kyrgyz voters approve constitutional changes

Kyrgyzstan Materials 22 October 2007 10:56 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Kyrgyz voters backed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's constitutional amendments in a referendum criticised by the opposition as undemocratic but hailed by the Kyrgyz leader as a step towards stability.

The Central Election Commission said on Monday about 75 percent of voters cast their ballots in favour of the changes that broaden responsibilities of parliament while boosting Bakiyev's hold on power. About four percent were against.

Home to a U.S. and a Russian military base, the Central Asian state has been unstable since 2005 when violent protests ousted veteran leader Askar Akayev and brought Bakiyev to power.

The opposition called the amendments a step towards authoritarianism on Sunday because it believes they give Bakiyev too much power.

The Kyrgyz leader, seen as a relative liberal among his more hard-line Central Asian neighbours, is expected to dissolve parliament and call early elections after the referendum.

The commission said almost 76 percent of people also backed separate amendments raising the number of parliament deputies and changing the election process from a single-constituency system to a proportional all-party list.

Analysts believe the move would help the newly formed pro-presidential Ak Zhol party gain a power base in the chamber.

Independent local observers said the official turnout of 80 percent was inflated and reported cases of ballot stuffing. Central election officials denied any major irregularities.

Bakiyev has long sought to dissolve parliament, packed with critics elected in a disputed poll under Akayev's rule.

Asked on Sunday when a snap poll might take place, Bakiyev said: "You will hear about it soon. Everything will be as it should be."