Asia

Kyrgyzstan votes on constitutional changes amid instability

  • FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2016 file photo, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev speaks during a joint news conference with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili after their talks in Tbilisi, Georgia during Atambayev's two-day official visit to Georgia. Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots on Sunday, Dec. 11, in a constitutional referendum, initiated by Atambayev, that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister - something opposition groups have criticized in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov, File)

    FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2016 file photo, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev speaks during a joint news conference with Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili after their talks in Tbilisi, Georgia during Atambayev's two-day official visit to Georgia. Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots on Sunday, Dec. 11, in a constitutional referendum, initiated by Atambayev, that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister - something opposition groups have criticized in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this June 27, 2016 file photo, Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov, left, poses with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for photographers during the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China. Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots on Sunday, Dec. 11, in a constitutional referendum, initiated by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister - something opposition groups have criticized in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation. (Wang Zhao/Pool Photo via AP, File)

    FILE - In this June 27, 2016 file photo, Kyrgyzstan's Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov, left, poses with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for photographers during the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China. Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots on Sunday, Dec. 11, in a constitutional referendum, initiated by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister - something opposition groups have criticized in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation. (Wang Zhao/Pool Photo via AP, File)  (The Associated Press)

Voters in Kyrgyzstan are casting ballots in a constitutional referendum that includes amendments that boost the power of prime minister — something opposition groups have criticized in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation.

Sunday's vote was initiated by President Almazbek Atambayev. His critics have claimed the move could allow him to shift into the prime minister's seat after his current term as president ends next year but Atambayev denies such intentions.

Political infighting ahead of the referendum has fueled fears of a new round of instability in the impoverished nation of six million on China's mountainous western frontier. Kyrgyzstan has seen the violent overthrow of two presidents since gaining independence in 1991.

If approved, the amendments would allow the prime minister to appoint and dismiss Cabinet ministers and regional governors without consulting the president. The prime minister would also have a decisive say in shaping the government budget.

Atambayev's supporters cast the amendments as part of efforts to increase the power of parliament and strengthen checks and balances between branches of government.

The amendments also envisage a ban on same-sex marriages.

Kyrgyzstan used to host a U.S. air base that supported military operations in Afghanistan, but it evicted the U.S. in 2014. It still hosts a Russian air base and is part of a Moscow-dominated economic and security alliance of ex-Soviet nations.