Kazakh parliament backs extending strongman`s rule to 2020

The Kazakh parliament backed a plan for a referendum which would extend the mandate of the Central Asian state`s long serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev to 2020.

Updated: Dec 29, 2010, 16:16 PM IST

Astana: The Kazakh parliament on Wednesday backed a
plan for a referendum which would extend the mandate of the
Central Asian state`s long serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev to 2020.

The central election commission unexpectedly announced
this week it had received a petition to hold a referendum
which if agreed would mean Kazakhstan skips 2012 presidential
polls and Nazarbayev serves for another decade.

"Taking into account the historic role of the leader of
our nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev, we suggest parliament
addresses the president with an initiative to hold a
referendum," said speaker Ural Mukhamedzhanov on behalf of
lawmakers.

He confirmed that the referendum would be on "changes in
the constitution to prolong the mandate of the president,"
according to the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency.

The Kazakh parliament, the Mazhalis, is unstintingly
loyal to the president, unsurprising given that the last
parliamentary elections in 2007 left it only with deputies
from the ruling Nur Otan party.

The initiators of the referendum idea had said this week
they hope by January 10 to gather all the signatures required
for the referendum to go ahead. Nazarbayev has yet to comment
on the idea.

Nazarbayev, who has ruled the energy rich state since
independence, is hailed by his supporters as the Kazakh
equivalent to India`s Mahatma Gandhi or Turkey`s Kemal
Ataturk, a national hero who transformed his nation.

However critics point to a lack of democracy in a system
devoid of any real political competition and a muzzled press
where opposition journalists and activists are repeatedly
harassed.

PTI