Both houses of the Kazakhstan Parliament [official website] on Wednesday agreed to hold a referendum proposing to extend the term of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website; BBC profile] to 2020, bypassing two presidential elections. Nazarbayev's current term is set to expire in 2012 [AP report]. If he continues to rule until 2020, Nazarbayev will have been in power in the country for 30 years. Supporters of the referendum maintain that it is necessary [Interfax report] in order to ensure that Nazarbayev can continue to address issues facing the country. They also indicated that continuity of government is necessary for the country's continued growth. Opposition parties to the referendum claim Nazarbayev's political party is attempting to eliminate any political competition [Reuters report]. The referendum will reportedly take place as early as March 2011.
In June, Nazarbayev announced during a local TV broadcast that he would not sign a controversial law [JURIST report] that would grant him several presidential powers for life, even if he stepped down from office. Nazarbayev's supporters believed that the president has earned such protections due to his ability as a nation builder. Opponents had urged the president not to sign the bill. The draft law moved quickly through Kazakhstan's parliament in May, with the upper and lower houses [JURIST reports] approving the bill in under a week. The amendment has been criticized both internationally and domestically with opponents accusing Nazarbayev's supporters of trying to install a constitutional monarchy. In 2007, Nazarbayev approved a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] removing term limits on his own presidency, effectively allowing him to remain president for life. Under the amendment, subsequent presidents will have to abide by the law limiting them to two terms in office. The amendment also reduced presidential terms from 7 years to 5.