Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says he supports a series of constitutional changes that will be put to a nationwide referendum, and that there is no rift between him and his successor, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, who has distanced himself from the previous administration since violent anti-government protests shook the Central Asian nation in early January.
Nazarbaev, who has kept a low profile since he and his clan lost influence in the energy-rich country after the protests claimed at least 230 lives, made the comments in an interview with well-known political observer Daniyar Ashimbaev, who posted it on his Telegram channel on May 30.
“In general, I am confident that every generation has a right to amend the constitution, if that is an urgent need of the time that would contribute to progress and to society’s democratic development…. I have supported by all means [Toqaev’s] reforms…and there must be no doubts, I will support him this time as well,” Nazarbaev said.
In total, 56 amendments to the constitution have been proposed, including the restoration of the Constitutional Court, which was abolished in 1995, and banning the president from being a member of political parties and his relatives from holding public office.
Under the new constitution, Nazarbaev’s name will be removed from the document and he will lose his status as elbasy, a designation that comes with sweeping powers while guaranteeing full immunity to the former president and his immediate family.
Toqaev has said the referendum represents “an important democratic institution” and recalled that “the last referendum in Kazakhstan was held in 1995, when the current constitution was approved.”
Critics say Toqaev’s initiatives are mainly cosmetic and will not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.
Nazarbaev, 81, resigned as president in 2019, picking long-time ally Toqaev as his successor. But he retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying the powers as elbasy. Many of his relatives continued to hold important posts in the government, security agencies, and profitable energy groups.
In January, protests that started over a fuel price hike spread across Kazakhstan because of discontent over the cronyism that had long plagued the country. Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of the security council role, taking it over himself.
Just days after the protests, Nazarbaev’s two sons-in-law, Qairat Sharipbaev and Dimash Dosanov, were pushed out of top jobs at two major state companies, QazaqGaz and KazTransOil, respectively.
Since then, several other relatives and those close to the family have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.
Toqaev has said publicly he wanted Nazarbaev’s associates to share their wealth with the public by making regular donations to a new charity foundation.
“If some of my relatives used my name behind my back to violate the law, they must be held responsible. Their guilt must be proven in court,” Nazarbaev said.