Kazakhstan: Adoring Public Seeks to Spare Leader of Nation from Elections
It’s been a great year for Kazakhstan’s Leader of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Not only has Astana’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) given him the chance to strut the world stage, he’s also done pretty well at home as the love of his people has overflowed into ever more powers for the already omnipotent president.Not content with a bill passed this year granting Nazarbayev the title of Leader of the Nation with accompanying special rights and powers, a group of public figures in eastern Kazakhstan now wants to save the president the bother of standing for re-election.The snappily named “initiative group on conducting a national referendum to extend the powers of the first president of Kazakhstan” met December 23 in the eastern city of Oskemen (also known as Ust-Kamenogorsk), and the 850 presidential fans present voted unanimously in favor of holding a referendum to extend Nazarbayev’s term of office to 2020, KazTAG reports. The vote has no legal force, but could provide a springboard to allow this “grassroots” idea to gather momentum.The president’s services to Kazakhstan are so great that he shouldn’t have to face the formality of allowing the public a say in whether he stays in office, his enchanted electorate suggested.The bid is backed by some well-known figures, including Mayor of Almaty Akhmetzhan Yesimov – who described it as “important not for Nursultan Nazarbayev but for the whole of society, for the whole of Kazakhstan” – and poet Olzhas Suleymenov. Suleymenov sees a vote ushering in another decade of rule for a president who’s already been in power for 20 years as a “convenient tested means to avoid the two year cycle of the election period and the associated costs.”Math is evidently not Sulmeymenov’s strong suit, since elections don’t come every two years in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev was elected for a seven-year term in 2005 (with a resounding 91 percent of the vote in a poll deemed flawed by international observers). Presidential aide Yermukhamet Yertysbayev’s already announced that Nazarbayev will stand in December 2012, and he’s personally exempt from the usual two constitutional term limits.Opposition leaders were scathing about the bid to dispense with presidential elections. “As Leader of the Nation he believes that he shouldn’t be in an election race with ordinary mortals,” OSDP Azat party co-leader Bolat Abilov scoffed.Nazarbayev already benefits from plenty of legal privileges, and it’s not clear why he’d need to dispense with the elections that afford him a modicum of legitimacy. However, it’s worth looking back a few months to the debate over the controversial Leader of the Nation law. Observers questioned why a president with almost unlimited powers needed that bill (which, coincidentally or not, was initiated by a couple of academics in the regions), but it still became law even after Nazarbayev coyly rejected it.The president may wish to flaunt his modesty yet again by publicly declining the referendum bid, but his adoring public may yet force the Leader of the Nation to accept this unexpected New Year’s gift.