Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on January 26 unveiled a set of draft constitutional changes that the elderly leader says will deliver “a serious redistribution of powers and democratisation of the political system as a whole”.
The 76-year-old is yet to identify a clear successor which – especially given last September’s death at the age of 78 of Islam Karimov, president of Kazakhstan’s neighbour Uzbekistan from 1989 – has led to uncertainty among investors. There is some encouragement, however, in that Nazarbayev has already devolved a significant amount of power to subordinates, with the profile of ex-central bank governor, key Kazakh reformer and financier Grigori Marchenko demonstrating the possibility of progress.
The package of possible amendments and additions to the constitution has now gone out for “a nationwide discussion” that will be held in Kazakhstan between January 26 and February 26, the presidential press service said. However, there is scepticism among analysts who suspect the changes might be aimed at creating parliamentarism without pluralism.
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, have begun to refer to “Operation Successor”, claiming that the elite, determined to protect their wealth, are preparing to split power among themselves in anticipation of the post-Nazarbayev era.
In a special televised address on January 25 to the people of Kazakhstan on the 25th anniversary of its independence, Nazarbayev did not mention anything concerning the facilitation of an environment that encourages multi-party competition. No real alternative yet exists to Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party.
During his address, Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan with an iron fist since before it obtained independence in 1991, stated that there “was, is and will be a state with a presidential form of government”.
He added that around 40 functions could be transferred from the president to parliament and the government, giving the cabinet more powers to run the economy and creating what he claims will be greater stability in the country’s political system for many years to come, as well as efficient mechanisms for responding to modern challenges of the day. Following the reforms, the head of state would focus on foreign policy, national security and strategic matters, and would intermediate between the various branches of power, Nazarbayev said.
Kazakhstan is the only ex-Soviet republic still run by its communist-era leader. The current constitution gives Nazarbayev the power to appoint all cabinet members.