Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council [official website, in Kazakh] on Monday rejected a proposed referendum that would have extended the presidency of Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] until 2020. According to the council, the proposal, which entailed cancellation of elections [BBC report] scheduled for 2012 and 2017, was inconsistent with the constitution [RFE/RL report]. In an address to citizens on Monday after the council's decision was announced, Nazarbayev said that in lieu of the referendum, which he said would divide society, he is now advocating for snap elections [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh]. Nazarbayev has already expressed his intention to run for president again, and last week said he wants to lead the country as long as his health permits [RIA Novosti report].
The referendum was forwarded [press release, in Kazakh] to Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council after the parliament [official website, in Kazakh] unanimously approved [JURIST report] the proposal on January 14. The parliament's vote overruled Nazarbayev's decision earlier in the month to veto the proposed referendum [Reuters report]. Nazarbayev's current term is set to expire in 2012 [AFP report], but, if the referendum had been been approved, he was poised to achieve a 30-year term in office. Supporters of the referendum said that it was necessary [Interfax report] in order to ensure that Nazarbayev can continue to address issues facing the country. They also indicated that continuity of government was necessary for the country's continued growth. Opponents argued that Nazarbayev's political party was attempting to eliminate any political competition. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) [official website] emphasized the need for democratic elections [press release], arguing that the proposed referendum "[did] not offer a genuine choice between political alternatives and would infringe on the opportunity of citizens to hold their representatives accountable and to effectively exercise their right to vote and be elected." In 2007, Nazarbayev approved a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] removing term limits on his own presidency, effectively allowing him to remain president for life.