Kazakhstan moves towards permanent autocracy; Russia signs nuclear pact

A package of constitutional amendments approved May 18 by Kazakhstan’s parliament allow President Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain in office for the rest of his life. Under Kazakhstan’s current constitution, Nazarbayev—who has been in power since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union—would be required to step down in 2012. Yermek Zhumabayev, chair of a commission that drafted the package, said the elimination of term limits for Nazarbayev was approved in recognition of “the historic role the first president has played in the establishment of our state, as one of the founders of our new independent Kazakhstan.” Critics charged that the vote essentially makes Nazarbayev, 66, president for life. “It is a huge step back for the nation,” said Aidos Sarimov, a political analyst at the Altynbek Sarsenbayev Foundation, an opposition-linked think-tank in Almaty.

The original set of amendments shifted some presidential powers to Parliament, including the appointment of prime ministers, and reduced future presidential terms to five years from the current seven, but said nothing about allowing Nazarbayev to run for office indefinitely.

Sarimov charges the finalized changes actually increase the president’s power. “From now on, the president will be able to dissolve Parliament any time he wants,” he said. “According to the new amendments, the president also will be able to disband local councils, which is totally undemocratic. If presidential powers were expanded on 15 points, parliamentary powers were uplifted by only five, which resulted in a further imbalance of power in Kazakhstan in favor of the president.”

There has been speculation that Nazarbayev will be succeeded by his daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, or another member of his family. If the constitutional changes mean that he does intend to remain in power indefinitely, his relatives could be among those most disappointed.

“President Nazarbayev gave a very clear signal to the political forces in the country and first of all to members of his own family to stop speculating about succession options and planning how to get the future presidency,” said Sarimov, whose Altynbek Sarsenbayev Foundation is named after an opposition leader who was kidnapped and killed last year.

Sen. Kuanysh Sultanov, speaking to the Los Angeles Times by telephone from Astana, the capital, praised Parliament’s action as good for the country. “The contribution and importance of our first president is so immense that we decided to introduce this amendment to give our president a chance to continue his political and economic reforms,” Sultanov said. “There is no chance whatsoever that he may abuse this power, given the wise way he is running the country…. Our country needs a strong and wise leader now, and no one can do the job better than Nazarbayev.”

Sultanov also contested the accusation that the changes amount to making Nazarbayev president for life. “‘Presidency for life’ is an incorrect term here,” Sultanov said. “He can run for the presidency for more than two terms, but no one obligates him to do it. It is absolutely up to him.” (LAT, May 19)

Meanwhile, Russia and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement to establsih a joint International Uranium Enrichment Center, to cooperate on developing nuclear energy. The center will be established at the Angarsk chemical electrolysis plant in the Irkutsk Region of Eastern Siberia. Last year, Moscow and Astana signed a contract on the delivery of uranium from the Zarechnoye deposit in southern Kazakhstan to Russian nuclear power plants.

Russian authorities portrayed the new agreement as potentially multilateral. “Any country can become a member of the center by signing an intergovernmental agreement granting it guaranteed access to uranium enrichment services,” Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, said. (RIA-Novosti, May 18)

But is seems to represent a clear tilt to Moscow on the part of Kazakhstan—especially in light of the agreement signed just days earlier to deliver Kazakh gas to global markets via an all-Russia pipeline.

See our last posts on Kazakhstan, Russia and the Great Game for Central Asia.

  1. “Police despotism”
    From AlJazeera, May 24:

    A television controlled by the Kazakh president’s son-in-law has been taken off the air by authorities, according to a local news agency.

    Thursday’s move came just a day after Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, ordered investigations into Rakhat Aliyev on charges of corruption.

    The Kazakhstan Today news agency, also controlled by Aliyev, said authorities had taken the KTK channel off the air and shut down another of his assets, the Karavan newspaper.

    Aliyev is a powerful politician and businessmen who is married to Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva.

    Kazakhstan Today said both suspensions were due to violations in Kazakh law and applied for three months.

    Police and the general prosecutor’s office were not available for comment.

    “This is complete lawlessness,” Karavan chief editor Alexander Shukhov told Kazakhstan Today.

    “We are dealing with the fact of police despotism which is on the brink of a police coup.”

    Abduction charges

    Aliyev, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Vienna, has not been available for comment. The Kazakh embassy in Vienna has declined to comment on the matter.

    On Wednesday police were ordered to investigate Aliyev on suspicion of kidnapping two senior officials of a bank he owned.

    Analysts said the move was part of Nazarbayev’s bid to tighten control in the oil-rich Central Asian state.

    Earlier in the week he signed constitutional amendments that paved the way for him to stand for election as many times as he wanted and theoretically become president for life.


    Aliyev has previously suggested that Kazakhstan could become a monarchy and has been seen as a rival to Nazarbayev, where clan divisions often dominate politics.

    His wife, Nazarbayeva, is a powerful figure in her own right, controlling the state’s biggest media holding and has also been seen as potential successor to her father.

    Separately on Thursday, police detained Sergei Duvanov, an independent journalist, for protesting on the main square of the financial capital Almaty against this week’s constitutional amendments.

    Duvanov has frequently been arrested by authorities and convicted on a rape charge that he claims was trumped up by authorities.

    1. Son-in-law busted
      From ITAR-TASS, June 4:

      Former Kazakh ambassador Rakhat Aliyev, who was seized in Vienna on Friday, has been released on a bail of one million euros.

      It is necessary to pay the bail within eight days.

      The son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been charged with abductions, extortion and forgery of documents. Kazakhstan demands his extradition. The ex-ambassador says he is not guilty and explains the extradition request with political factors.

      Aliyev’s business partner was detained in Austria on Friday. Kazakhstan wants his extradition, as well.

      A representative of the Austrian authorities told Itar-Tass he did not know what would happen to the other detainee, but he also might be released on bail.

      He said court hearings on the extradition request might take long and they have no right to keep people in custody for an indefinite period without weighty reasons. Naturally, there is a possibility of escape, but the judge has decided that the bail would be a strong enough collateral, he said.

      The official found it difficult to say where Aliyev is staying now. He may be still at a hospital room, where he was taken soon after the arrest because of a heartache.

      A day of court hearings on the extradition request has not been set. Representatives of Kazakhstan will not have to attend the hearings, the official said.

      Kazakh authorities asked for the extradition of Aliyev on Wednesday. According to Austrian authorities, the request mentioned another six people, including employees of the Kazakh embassy who maintained close contacts with the former ambassador.