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Embattled Government of Kyrgyzstan seeks referendum for June 27

In early April 2010 bloody riots rocked the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in response to high utility costs and brutal levels of perceived corruption. For nearly a week, thousands of protesters took to the streets in a bloody clash which reportedly killed at least eighty people and wounded nearly 500 more. During the chaos, President Kurmanev Bakiyev an autocrat with deep ties to Russia, was overthrown and fled the country upon which an interim government led by Roza Otubayeva seized power.

Yet Otubayeva’s hold on the country – tenuous from the start – has unraveled further in the wake of ethnic violence in the region of Osh, a traditional stronghold of Bakiyev support. Earlier this month members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority were targeted by ethnic Kyrgyz in a humanitarian crisis which has seen hundreds killed thousands injured and nearly 50,000 people displaced. At present, the violence seems to have subsided, although Osh remains in a state of emergency and government control over the region is practically nonexistent.

The Otubayeva administration, lacking a democratic mandate, is now seeking one through constitutional referendum. The proposed constitution significantly weakens the office of the presidency while strengthening the legislature and the office of the prime ministership. Yet while the text of the constitution itself might limit Otubayeva’s power, a majority approval of the document through plebiscite would enervate her exhausted administration, pave the way for international recognition of the interim government and allow for tougher measures in reasserting national control over Osh. Even if the reform fails to pass, the mere act of having undertaken a successful referendum so soon after widespread chaos and disorder, and of accepting it’s results in a democratic fashion, would likely strengthen the government’s position at least as a placeholder until new elections can be held in December 2011.

An old cliché which has made the rounds from Emerson to Aerosmith tells us to value the journey over the destination. The Kyrgyz example illustrates yet again that the details of the proposed constitution are far less important than the struggle to implement it.

--Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, Alcaldia de Sucre, Caracas

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