Kazakhstan moved on Monday to extend the reign of President Nursultan Nazarbayev for another ten years without re-election, imperilling hopes of a transition to democracy in the oil-rich former Soviet state.
By Richard Orange, Almaty 1:48PM GMT 27 Dec 2010
The country’s election body backed a self-styled citizens’ forum which last week called for a referendum to extend Mr Nazarbayev’s rule to 2020, when he will be 80 years old. The backing means that the collection of the required 200,000 signatures can begin and the president will decide at the end of the process whether to hold a referendum.
Mr Nazarbayev, whose advisers recently said he would stand for re-election in 2012, has ruled the Central Asian country since the dying days of the Soviet Union. Last year a “Leader of the Nation” law was passed which grants Mr Nazarbayev’s family lifetime immunity from prosecution, and threatens prison to anyone “violating the honour and dignity of the First President”.
Opposition figures said the Kazakhstan authorities had chosen the period between Christmas and New Year to prevent disgruntled citizens taking to the streets. “People will be celebrating for 15 days now, and when they return to work in mid-January, passions will have subsided and they won’t bother to protest,” Sergei Duvanov, a dissident, told Reuters. “Otherwise, the opposition would have already organised some protest actions in a square.”
Government officials queued up to support the initiative, which was given wide coverage on state-run television channels.
Vladimir Redkokashin, head of the city council of Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, said: “The holding of the referendum, the granting of power to the president until 2020 is a very positive initiative that is supported by all citizens.” He added that it would be approved by the “overwhelming majority” of the Kazakh people.