Hundreds took to the streets in Kyrgyzstan Sunday to oppose a proposed constitution that critics say would empower the presidency and damage freedom of speech.
Constitutional amendments currently undergoing public discussion would return cabinet-forming powers to the president and allow incumbent leaders to run for office.
Initiators say the draft constitution should be put to a referendum on January 10, the same day that the ex-Soviet country is holding presidential elections.
In October, Sooronbay Jeenbekov became the third Kyrgyz leader since independence to resign over political unrest.
Disarray in the Central Asian country has caused concern for key allies Russia and China.
Several hundred protesters who gathered in the centre of the capital Bishkek held up signs decrying a ‘Khanstitution’ — a reference to the absolutist rulers who dominated Central Asia for centuries.
Some chanted against Sadyr Japarov, who this month resigned as acting president and prime minister to compete in a presidential election set for January 10, which he is tipped to win.
Japarov has spoken in favour of the constitution and is widely believed to be its driving force.
He called naysayers ‘shameless fools’ in a statement relayed via media on Friday, and promised to ‘unmask the true opponent’ of the changes next week.
Constitutional changes passed after an uprising in 2010 had limited Kyrgyz presidents to a single six-year term in office, while strengthening the powers of the parliament.
The proposed constitution would reverse those stipulations and introduce a new people’s assembly to which parliament and the government should report.
International rights groups including Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have raised concerns over the document.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee warned Friday that a proposed amendment that would allow the banning of publications offending ‘the morals and culture of the people of Kyrgyzstan’ could ‘seriously violate that same people’s right to freedom of speech’.
Populist Japarov has been accused of using his supporters to force Jeenbekov’s resignation and bully the parliament.
Prior to the uproar triggered by alleged vote-buying campaigns Japarov was serving a jail sentence for hostage-taking.
That conviction has since been squashed, and the results of the parliamentary vote annulled.
Fresh parliamentary polls are expected to take place next year, but no date has been set.
Votes in mountainous Kyrgyzstan are traditionally more competitive than in the other ex-Soviet ‘stans’ -- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Asia