Kaza­khstan lifts term lim­its on long-rul­ing leader

Los Angeles Times - - The World - By David Hol­ley

moscow — Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan A. Nazarbayev of Kaza­khstan could re­main in of­fice for the rest of his life as a re­sult of a pack­age of con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments ap­proved Fri­day by Par­lia­ment.

The mea­sures, which need Nazarbayev’s sig­na­ture to take ef­fect, would re­move any limit on the num­ber of terms he can serve.

Un­der Kaza­khstan’s cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion, Nazarbayev, who has ex­er­cised au­thor­i­tar­ian rule over the oil-rich Cen­tral Asian coun­try since the 1991 col­lapse of the Soviet Union, would be re­quired to step down in 2012.

Crit­ics charged that the vote was tan­ta­mount to mak­ing Nazarbayev, 66, pres­i­dent for life, whereas sup­port­ers said it was recog­ni­tion of the key role he has played in build­ing the coun­try of 15 mil­lion.

“It is a huge step back for the na­tion,” Ai­dos Sa­ri­mov, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Al­tyn­bek Sarsen­bayev Foun­da­tion, an op­po­si­tion-linked think tank in Al­maty, said by tele­phone.

Yer­mek Zhum­abayev, chair­man 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.”

Un­der terms of the pack­age, Nazarbayev would be an ex­cep­tion, with fu­ture pres­i­dents lim­ited to two five-year terms.

The ac­tion Fri­day in­volved changes to amend­ments sub­mit­ted to Par­lia­ment by Nazarbayev on Wed­nes­day, which had been pro­moted as mea­sures to make the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem more demo­cratic. Kaza­khstan has never had an elec­tion that out­side ob­servers have judged to be free and fair.

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

Un­der the changes ap­proved Fri­day, the pres­i­dent would need to seek Par­lia­ment’s en­dorse­ment for his choice of a prime min­is­ter. The pack­age also in­creased the num­ber of mem­bers in Par­lia­ment and pro­vided for more seats in the lower house to be filled ac­cord­ing to the pro­por­tion of votes won by par­ties. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers say that would make it more dif­fi­cult for in­de­pen­dent law­mak­ers to win seats.

It was not clear that the pack­age as a whole marked any real shift of power to­ward Par­lia­ment, as back­ers as­serted.

“From now on, the pres­i­dent will be able to dis­solve Par­lia­ment any time he wants,” Sa­ri­mov said. “Ac­cord­ing to the new amend­ments, the pres­i­dent also will be able to dis­band lo­cal coun­cils, which is to­tally un- demo­cratic. 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.”

The coun­try has seen strong eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment un­der Nazarbayev, fu­eled by growth of the oil and gas in­dus­try. The gross do­mes­tic prod­uct jumped 10.6% last year and 9.4% in 2005. Though crit­i­cized for keep­ing tight con­trols on me­dia and the op­po­si­tion, Nazarbayev also en­joys con­sid­er­able re­spect.

There has been much spec­u­la­tion that Nazarbayev might be suc­ceeded by his po­lit­i­cally ac­tive daugh­ter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, or an­other mem­ber of his fam­ily. If Fri­day’s par­lia­men­tary ac­tion means that he does in­tend to hang on to power, 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 of the Al­tyn­bek Sarsen­bayev Founda- tion, named af­ter a prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion leader who was kid­napped and killed last year.

Sen. Kuanysh Sul­tanov, speak­ing in a tele­phone in­ter­view 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.”

The sen­a­tor also dis­puted the charge that Par­lia­ment’s ac­tion amounted to mak­ing Nazarbayev a life­time pres­i­dent.

“ ‘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.” david.hol­ley@la­times.com Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Sergei Supin­sky AFP/Getty Images

NAZARBAYEV Un­der new rules, he po­ten­tially could serve as pres­i­dent for life.

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