0956 GMT February 18, 2020
Polls opened at 08:00 local time (0200 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 20:00 (1400 GMT), with over 2.8 million people being eligible to vote, according to the country’s Central Election Commission.
Kyrgyz citizens will be deciding for or against the introduction of over 20 amendments to the constitution. The amendments have been promoted by the incumbent president, with an aim to boost the prime minister’s powers.
The proposed amendments have been criticized by opposition groups, which claim that they could allow President Almazbek Atambayev to shift into the prime minister’s seat after his current term ends next year to prolong his rule. Atambayev has denied harboring such intentions.
Kyrgyzstan has a parliamentary political system, in which the president, himself elected in national elections, appoints an acting prime minister, who will then have to be confirmed by the Supreme Council in the parliament to become full prime minister.
The amendments, if passed, would allow the prime minister to appoint and dismiss cabinet ministers and regional governors without parliamentary or presidential approval. The prime minister would also gain new powers over shaping the government budget.
Other proposed amendments cover regulations related to human rights, citizenship, and same-sex marriage in Kyrgyzstan.
This is the seventh time the country has put constitutional changes to a vote since gaining independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Over the past 25 years, Kyrgyzstan has seen the violent overthrow of two presidents, one in 2005 and the other in 2010.
Constitutionally, Atambayev is limited to only one presidential term, which will come to an end in 2017. He came to power in 2011.
Kyrgyzstan, with a population of six million, is one of the two poorest countries to emerge from the former Soviet Union with a strong dependence on cash remittances sent home by hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz migrants working in Russia.