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Kazakhstan: Voters cast ballots in referendum on constitutional reform

Polls opened in Kazakhstan on Sunday for a nationwide referendum on constitutional reform on Sunday promoted by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as a step toward liberalising the Central Asian republic, though it would still leave key powers in his hands.

The reform is likely to Tokayev, 69, the political capital he needs to run for a second term in Kazakhstan, this time without the backing of his former patron and predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, Reuters reports.

Although in power since 2019 following Nazarbayev’s abrupt resignation after three decades in power, Tokayev has only fully emerged as an independent figure this year after putting down an attempted coup in January and removing Nazarbayev and his relatives from key positions in the government.

Aside from moves to decentralise decision-making and allow greater representation of various groups in parliament, the reform will also strip Nazarbayev of his “national leader” status that granted him lifetime privileges.

The president, however, would retain powers to appoint judges and regional governors and dissolve parliament.

Tokayev has described the proposed changes as a move from a “superpresidential” system to a presidential republic with a strong parliament.

“We are… laying the foundation for the Second Republic,” Tokayev said, addressing the nation on the eve of the vote.

He voiced confidence on Sunday that his initiative would pass: “There is a lot of work ahead, we will need to implement the constitutional provisions for which we are voting.”

Analysts said the move was in part a response to January’s unrest that started as a protest against a fuel price hike and evolved into a broad display of public discontent with a system that concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a few.

Tokayev has also called for higher taxes on the lucrative extractive industries and high-income individuals, saying social justice would be the cornerstone of a new social contract.

Addressing domestic policy concerns would free up the career diplomat’s hands to deal with unprecedented external turbulence.

Caught between major economic and security partner Russia and the West, which has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its giant oilfields and mines, Kazakhstan is trying to navigate a way through the Ukraine crisis without angering either side.


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