Kazakhstan's veteran leader has rejected a proposal by parliament to extend his rule for a third decade via a referendum -- a move that would bypass the need for a presidential election due in 2012.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a decree rejecting the plan only hours after senators asked him to approve a "people's initiative" to prolong his tenure until 2020.
Nazarbayev, known as "Papa" to many Kazakhs, has overseen more than $150 billion in foreign investment during more than two decades as leader of Kazakhstan, the world's largest uranium miner and a major exporter of oil, gas and industrial metals.
The "people's initiative" said it had gathered 2.6 million signatures by Wednesday, far in excess of the 200,000 required under Kazakh law to trigger a request for a referendum.
Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament on Thursday voted unanimously to ask the president to approve the referendum, echoing a call last week by the lower chamber.
Nazarbayev rejected the proposal in a decree dated Jan. 6 and published by official newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda on Friday, Orthodox Christmas Day and a public holiday.
In June, he publicly rejected a parliamentary proposal to appoint him 'Leader of the Nation', a status that grants him the power to retain strong influence over society even after he steps down as president. But less than two weeks later, the bill came into law after being signed by the prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament.
In 1995, Nazarbayev called and easily won a referendum on extending his term to 2000 from 1996.
Nazarbayev's aide, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, told Reuters this week that he believed the referendum would be held anyway, as the proposal was supported by the political elite and business interests keen to maintain stability in the country.
Kazakh leader rejects plan to extend rule
Nazarbayev issued a decree rejecting the plan only hours after senators asked him to approve a "people's initiative" to prolong his tenure until 2020.