Kazakhstan referendum set to pass constitutional change to empower parliament

Kazakhstan referendum set to pass constitutional change to empower parliament

Kazakhstan referendum set to pass constitutional change to empower parliament

Kazakhstan was set to pass changes to its constitution through a referendum Sunday, exit polls showed, after deadly unrest ended founding leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s three-decade grip on Central Asia’s richest country.

Three exit polls showed constitutional changes passing with more than 74 percent of voters in support, a government Telegram channel said, with official results expected Monday.

The January bloodshed — which grew out of peaceful protests over a spike in car fuel prices — left more than 230 people dead and prompted authorities to call in troops from a Russia-led security bloc.

The drive for a “New Kazakhstan” in the wake of the violence has come from the man that Nazarbayev hand-picked to replace him as president in 2019, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

>>Kazakhstan’s President Tokayev voted in as ruling party leader following deadly crackdown

Tokayev, 69, describes the snap referendum as a shift from “super-presidential” rule that will strengthen parliament.

But it is the absence of special privileges for 81-year-old Nazarbayev that is the most eye-catching change to the constitution.

Prior to January’s crisis, Tokayev was widely seen as ruling in the shadow of Nazarbayev and his super-rich relatives.

Even after stepping down as president, Nazarbayev retained the constitutional title of “Elbasy”, or “Leader of the Nation” — a role that afforded him influence over policymaking regardless of his formal position.

The new constitution does away with that status.

Another amendment prevents relatives of the president from holding government positions — a clear nod to the influence of Nazarbayev’s family and in-laws, who lost powerful positions in the aftermath of the violence.

Three government-endorsed pollsters all indicated strong support for the changes after voting concluded on Sunday night, with the lowest result showing 74.8 percent in favour and the highest showing 79.4 percent in favour.

Kazakhstan’s central electoral commission claimed a preliminary turnout of 68.4 percent for the vote.

 

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