Kazakh leader asked to rule until 2020

Reuters/Almaty

Kazakh leader asked to rule until 2020Kazakhstan should cancel the next presidential election due in 2012 and extend veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s presidency until 2020 via a referendum, a self-described citizens’ forum has proposed.

Nazarbayev, 70, Kazakhstan’s leader for more than 20 years and once a member of the last ruling Soviet Communist Party politburo, announced through his top adviser in September that he would stand for a new term in an election set for 2012.

But an 850-strong forum of “representatives of Kazakhstan’s public”, held in the eastern city of Ust Kamenogorsk, appealed to the Kazakh parliament to approve holding a plebiscite to extend his term, bypassing elections, local media reported.

Poet Olzhas Suleimenov told the gathering that a referendum would be “a convenient and tried and tested way to avoid a two-year pre-election period and extra expenses which instead could be invested in the economy”, according to a report by the independent local news agency KazTAG.

“In any case, the result of the elections is known – 80 or 90% will vote for Nazarbayev,” he said. “In the world, priorities are changing now, and the democratic credentials of a ruling system are not as important as its efficiency.”

The forum was a motley gathering of Kazakhs including farmers, academics, war veterans and district council members. The state-dominated media did not flag the meeting in advance and it was unclear who initiated it.

But the initiative is likely to be welcomed by a legislature that has no opposition deputies and earlier this year bestowed the title of the Leader of the Nation on Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev, who can run for an unlimited number of terms under constitutional changes introduced by his party in 2007, must give the final word on whether to hold a referendum. State officials were not available to comment on the forum’s proposal.

But analysts said it would dovetail with investors’ belief that stability takes precedence over democracy in Kazakhstan.

“Nazarbayev is a guarantor of stability for investors,” Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev told Reuters.

In 1995, Nazarbayev called and easily won a referendum on extending his term to 2000 from 1996 after a presidential advisory body representing ethnic groups recommended that he do so.

“I believe, with probability of 99%, there will be a referendum in 2011,” Bulat Abilov, a Kazakh opposition leader, told KazTAG. “The authorities are not ready to hold fair, free and truly competitive presidential elections.

Known as “Papa” to Kazakhs, Nazarbayev has overseen more than $150bn in foreign investment, mainly in oil, gas and metals. Kazakhstan has the world’s largest uranium reserves and is home to its biggest oil discovery in 40 years.

Kazakhstan, which this year became the first former Soviet republic to assume the rotating chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), has never held an election judged free and fair by international observers.

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