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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyrgyzstan Votes in Referendum

ReutersElection officials visiting an elderly man Sunday in Archaly, outside Bishkek.
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz voters cast ballots Sunday in a constitutional referendum designed to ease tensions but criticized by the opposition as a step toward authoritarianism.

The proposed changes give President Kurmanbek Bakiyev additional leeway in picking officials and dissolving the parliament, and they pave the way for his political party to gain a power base in the parliament. "People are the real power. After all the debate, people will draw a line under it ... and express their point of view," Bakiyev said after casting his ballot in the capital, Bishkek.

At loggerheads with a parliament that was elected in a disputed vote under Askar Akayev's rule in 2005, Bakiyev was expected to call early parliamentary elections if the referendum was passed.

The opposition, once the driving force behind anti-Bakiyev protests but now weak and divided over political reform, criticized the proposed changes as authoritarian. "I voted against it because the draft constitution contains contradictions and strengthens the authoritarian rule of one person," said Emil Aliyev, an opposition politician.

The changes also increase the number of deputies and move the election process from a single-constituency system to a proportional all-party list, which should help the new pro-presidential Ak Zhol party win seats in the parliament.

Voter turnout was almost 50 percent in midafternoon, the Central Election Commission said, making the ballot technically valid. Local nongovernmental groups Interbilim and Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society said they had witnessed cases of ballot staffing near Bishkek. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was also monitoring the vote.