Kazakhstan's parliament [official website, in Kazakh] on Wednesday approved amendments to the constitution which allow President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, in Kazakh; BBC profile] to hold presidential elections in 2012 instead of extending his presidency until 2020. The bill was signed into law by Nazarbayev after unanimous approval by both houses of parliament. On Monday, Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council [official website, in Kazakh] rejected a proposed referendum [JURIST report] extending Nazarbayev's presidency until 2020. Following the council's decision, Nazarbayev announced a proposal for snap elections [RFE/RL report, in Kazakh] during an address to the citizens of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev's current term in office expires in 2012 and he has already expressed his intention to run for president again in the upcoming election. A date for the new elections has not yet been announced but may be scheduled for as early as this spring.
The proposed referendum was forwarded [press release, in Kazakh] to Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council after the parliament 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]. 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. Opponents have argued that Nazarbayev's political party is attempting to eliminate any political competition. The Kazakhstan Parliament initially approved [JURIST report] the referendum last month. In June 2010, Nazarbayev announced 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.