Kazakhstan endorses campaign to extend leader's rule

Nazarbayev announced through his top adviser in September that he would stand for a new term in a 2012 election.

Kazakhstan endorses campaign to extend leader's rule

Kazakhstan endorsed a nationwide campaign on Monday to collect signatures for holding a referendum to extend veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev's presidency until 2020, bypassing an election set for 2012.

Nazarbayev, 70, Kazakhstan's leader for more than 20 years, announced through his top adviser in September that he would stand for a new term in a 2012 election.

But a self-styled citizens' forum voiced a "people's initiative" last week to allow the president to rule for another decade without holding an election. The forum, held in eastern Kazakhstan, had not been flagged in advance by state media.

Late on Sunday, however, state-run television channels gave extensive coverage of the referendum initiative, giving the floor to leaders of Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities who lauded Nazarbayev and spoke in support of the plebiscite.

On Monday, Kazakhstan's central election commission officially registered the motion to hold the referendum and allowed "initiative groups" across the country to start gathering signatures in support of the plebiscite.

"No less than 200,000 signatures must be collected in all the regions, including the cities of Almaty and Astana, which is at least 12,500 signatures in each region," a commission spokeswoman said by telephone from the capital Astana.

"Once the necessary number of signatures has been collected, the president will decide on holding the referendum," she said.

The Central Asian nation's small but vocal opposition has said "the people's move" was an already tried ploy, which is again being orchestrated by Nazarbayev's close circle in a bid to prolong his stay in power by avoiding an honest election.

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

Known as "Papa" to Kazakhs, Nazarbayev has overseen more than $150 billion 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.

Opposition and Nazarbayev supporters believe the referendum may be held as early as in March 2011.


Reuters

Last Mod: 27 Aralık 2010, 15:15
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