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.