Kazakh leader rejects referendum, calls snap poll

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is likely to stand for polls in 2012.

Astana: Kazakhstan`s constitutional council on Monday rejected a referendum to extend President Nursultan Nazarbayev`s rule until 2020, meaning the leader of Central Asia`s largest economy is likely to stand for election in 2012.

"The constitutional council has ruled that the law does not comply with the constitution," said Igor Rogov, chairman of the council. Nazarbayev, 70, could appeal the decision within one month, Rogov said.

The President said in his annual state-of-the-nation address on Friday that the council would decide on the referendum and that he planned to stand for election in 2012 should the initiative be rejected.

Nazarbayev is scheduled to give a news conference at 1100 GMT.

"Nazarbayev will support the constitutional council`s decision," said Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev. "He has already given up the referendum idea."

Many foreign investors, who have poured more than USD 150 billion into Kazakhstan during Nazarbayev`s two decades in power, rate the absence of a clear succession plan as the single biggest threat to political stability in the ex-Soviet state.

The country is the world`s largest uranium miner and a major exporter of oil and industrial metals.

Nazarbayev, a former steelworker known as "Papa" to many Kazakhs, is the only leader that independent Kazakhstan has known. He would be extremely likely to win an election in 2012.

More than half of Kazakhstan`s nine million registered voters signed a petition calling for the referendum to extend Nazarbayev`s rule over the world`s 9th-largest country by area.

Public criticism of the President is taboo and not a single opposition politician sits in Parliament.

Nazarbayev, who has ruled his vast steppe nation for more than 20 years since Soviet days, said on Friday he plans to rule for as long as his health will allow, saying this was the signal he had received from his people.

Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free and fair by international observers.

Parliament voted on January 14 in favour of the plebiscite, which would have cleared the way for Nazarbayev to rule unopposed for a third decade, bypassing Presidential Elections scheduled for 2012 and 2017.

The United States and the European Union had criticised the referendum. Washington called it a "setback for democracy”.

Nazarbayev can stand for election an unlimited number of times. His current seven-year term expires in 2012, after which the presidential term will be cut to five years.

Bureau Report

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