The proposed new constitution limits the powers of the president, and boosts those of parliament and the prime minister. In what may well be a world first, it would also guarantee that the winning party in an election could not take more than 65 seats in the 120-member parliament, regardless of the size of its electoral majority. The remaining 55 seats would be divided among the opposition parties.
The intent is to guard against the authoritarianism that has plagued Kyrgyzstan and triggered two popular uprisings. The most recent, in April 2010, unseated President Kurmanbek Bakiev and ushered in a new interim government under Roza Otunbayeva. A "Yes" vote in the referendum would allow elections in October 2010 under the new constitution, and enable her to remain president until the end of 2011.
Kyrgyzstan's population of 5.3 million comprises three main ethnic groups: Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Russians. Most of the 767,000 Uzbeks live in the south, and since independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 have largely avoided politics, concentrating on commerce instead.
However, when Bakiev was ousted, some Uzbek leaders - including Kadyrjan Batyrov, leader of the mainly Uzbek Rodina political party, and his supporters in the southern city of Jalal-Abad - openly supported the current interim government. Local analysts say Batyrov's enunciation of Uzbek political demands angered many Kyrgyz in the south and raised tensions.
The referendum follows on the heels of the 10-15 June 2010 clashes in the south between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz groups that resulted in 261 registered deaths (the real death toll could be as high as 2,000, according to Otunbayeva) and displaced about 330,000 people.
The interim government argues that a "Yes" vote is crucial to legitimizing its rule and stabilizing the country in the wake of Bakiev's ouster and the violence in the south.
• Roza Otunbayeva, head of the interim government. One of the co-leaders of the Social-Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK); served as foreign minister in the Akaev and Bakiev governments; considered a moderate and a compromise figure to head the interim government, pending parliamentary elections in October 2010.
• Almazbek Atambayev, deputy head of the interim government. Head of SDPK, which has supporters in various parts of the country; served as prime minister under Bakiev; in charge of the economy and economic regulations; is a wealthy businessman.
• Omurbek Tekebayev, Otunbayeva's deputy responsible for new constitution. Leader of the Ata-Meken party. The new constitution would move the country from strong presidential rule to a parliamentary system with a less powerful president.
• Temirbek Sariyev, deputy head of the interim government in charge of finance. A leader of the Ak-Shumkar party; a wealthy businessman and staunch critic of Bakiev's government.
• Azimbek Beknazarov, Otunbayeva's deputy responsible for law-enforcement bodies. Head of the Asaba party; an opposition leader under Akaev; served in Bakiev's team as state prosecutor after ouster of Akaev in 2005; later sidelined.
• Ismail Isakov, acting minister of defence. Served as defence minister under Bakiev, then as head of the national security council. Resigned in October 2008 after disagreeing with Bakiev's policies and joined opposition. In January 2009 he was sentenced to eight years in prison and stripped of his general's rank in a trial he said was politically motivated. Released and rehabilitated after Bakiev was ousted.
|Former president Kurmanbek Bakiev|
• Maksim Bakiev. Kurmanbek Bakiev's younger son, said to have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars during his father's presidency. Requested asylum in the UK; has rejected reports suggesting he and his uncle, Janysh, were behind the ethnic clashes in south. Observers say they have a vested interest in destabilizing Kyrgyzstan so the referendum on the constitution will miscarry.
• Akmat Bakiev, younger brother of Kurmanbek Bakiev; said to be the de-facto ruler of Jalal-Abad Province.
• Kadyrjan Batyrov. Head of the mainly Uzbek Rodina party; one of the main leaders of the Uzbek community in southern Kyrgyzstan; openly supported the interim government after Bakiev was ousted in April; has stated that Uzbeks would demand a more active role in politics. Founded private University of Peoples' Friendship in Jalal-Abad; has several major businesses.
• Aybek Mirsidikov, also known as Chernyi Aibek; had influence among ethnic Uzbeks during Bakiev's time in office and openly supported his government and clan. Killed on 7 June, a few days before ethnic clashes in Osh and later in Jalal-Abad; reportedly had strong links with criminal world.
|Delicate ethnic balance|
|Violence in the south escalates|
|Civil war fears|
• Melis Myrzakmatov. Became mayor of Osh when Bakiev was in power and has retained the post; some of his former deputies accuse him and his supporters of being behind some pogroms in Osh, which he rejects
• Sooronbai Sharipov. Governor of Osh Province; member of Atambayev's SDPK.
• Bektur Asanov. Governor of Jalal-Abad Province after Bakiev's ouster. Bakiev supporters overran his office in Jalal-Abad in May, said they would install their own governor; Asanov managed to regain his office with the help of Batyrov and his supporters.
Osh is a major trafficking hub for Afghan drugs coming via Tajikistan to Russia and Kazakhstan. Local police officers say drug dealers seeking to protect their interests may have been involved in the recent turmoil.
Some observers note that corruption is rampant, regardless of the government in power; some drug traffickers might have powerful local protectors.
After disturbances between supporters of the interim government and the Bakiev clan in Jalal-Abad in May, some NGO activists said criminal groups had been acquiring arms.
The Jamestown Foundation
International Crisis Group
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
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