BISHKEK/OSH (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan has voted to create Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy, referendum results showed on Monday, prompting a Russian warning that extremists could manipulate parliament and seize power.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose country shares U.S. fears about Islamist militancy in Central Asia, said the political system set up by Sunday’s referendum could bring extremists to power or cause the collapse of the state.
At least 294 people, possibly hundreds more, were killed this month in violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic which hosts U.S. and Russian military air bases and shares a border with China.
Official results showed that with almost all votes counted, 90.6 percent of voters backed a new constitution paving the way for a parliamentary election in October.
Only 8 percent voted against, according to preliminary data from all but one of the country’s 2,319 polling stations, the Central Election Commission said on its website, www.shailoo.gov.kg. Turnout was 69 percent.
The commission’s head, Akylbek Sariyev, said final official results would be known in two to three days, after all ballot papers had been collected. Results have been relayed in electronic form from regional centers to the capital Bishkek.
Interim leader Roza Otunbayeva, speaking before the first results were known on Sunday, said Kyrgyzstan — which lies on a major drug trafficking route from Afghanistan — had embarked on a path to establishing a “true people’s democracy.”
The 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the referendum was transparent and the high voter turnout signaled the resilience of Kyrgyz citizens.
Its election monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said it had observed some flaws that would require improvement ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October and every five years thereafter.
The United States and Russia say they would support a strong government to prevent ethnic turmoil spreading throughout Central Asia, a region in which all countries have until now been run by authoritarian presidents.
“We hope that this is an effective step toward stable, democratic governance. We welcome the calm, orderly process, but await final polling results,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said on Sunday as the first results came in.
The United Nations said its special representative for Central Asia, Miroslav Jenca, was encouraged by the high turnout and the referendum was an important step toward promoting the rule of law and establishing a legitimate government.
The U.N. sent a cargo plane carrying fleece blankets and other humanitarian aid to Osh. It also said it would advise the government on the organization of the general election.
Medvedev, speaking after a G20 summit in Toronto, said: “I do not really understand how a parliamentary republic would look and work in Kyrgyzstan.
“Will this not lead to a chain of eternal problems — to reshuffles in parliament, to the rise to power of this or that political group, to authority being passed constantly from one hand to another, and, finally, will this not help those with extremist views to power?
“In its current state, there are a host of scenarios for Kyrgyzstan, including the most unpleasant scenario — going up to the collapse of the state,” Medvedev said.
His remarks contrasted with the immediate support shown by the Kremlin for Kyrgyzstan’s new government after the April 7 uprising that overthrew President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Keneshbek Dushebayev, head of Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Service, has said extremists could have played a role in this month’s violence and that the country was a weak link that could be exploited by terrorist groups.
Security analysts say violence is unlikely to hand gains to militant Islamists as authorities are on alert.
This opinion was echoed by a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, a movement that says it uses only peaceful methods to achieve its goal of establishing a worldwide caliphate — a theocratic Muslim state.
“We are not planning to use this chaos to increase our influence,” said Abdullah, a tire salesman and senior Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Osh, the center of this month’s violence.
“This can only backfire because then we would be accused of orchestrating all of this, and that would lead to more bloodshed,” he said. He declined to give his second name.
Under the new charter, Otunbayeva — the first woman to lead a Central Asian state — will be acting president until the end of 2011. A former ambassador to the United States and Britain, she has struggled to gain control of the south, Bakiyev’s family stronghold, even though she was born in Osh.
With violence still a threat, Otunbayeva extended a curfew in Osh and Jalalabad until August 10 and said she would support the arrival of an OSCE police contingent to maintain stability.
An official for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has backed an international police presence.
Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Toronto and Dmitry Solovyov in Bishkek; Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Tim Pearce