Kazakhstan voters approve major constitutional reforms that strip ex-President’s power
Kazakhstan voters approve major constitutional reforms that strip ex-President’s power

Kazakh voters approved major constitutional reforms in a landslide referendum Monday. These reforms include provisions to curb nepotism and remove the last vestiges of Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev‘s power. Under Kazakhstan’s current constitution, Nazarbayev retains the title First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, or Elbasy, giving him significant power despite his removal in 2019. Nazarbayev’s hand-picked replacement, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has touted the reforms and celebrated the referendum as “a new stage of development.”

Sergey Duvanov, a journalist and human rights activist, has criticized the referendum as insufficient, saying “there is nothing to stop him [Tokayev] going beyond a second term as president and becoming a second Elbasy.” Other Kazakhs have celebrated the referendum with one voter stating “[c]onstitutional amendments are especially important for me. Because, perhaps, I will not see the fruits of these amendments, but I hope my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will see them.”

The referendum comes in the wake of violence and unrest in January, 2022, which killed more than 230 people and led to Tokayev requesting military assistance from Russia and Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Tokayev. Tokayev cracked down on anti-government protests, instituting a “shoot-to-kill” order. Tokayev claims the incidents were not protests, but orchestrated terrorist attacks, stating:

It is no coincidence that hooligans attacked morgues at night and took away the bodies of their dead accomplices. They also removed the bodies of the militants from the battlefield. It is well known that this is the experience of international terrorists. They hide their tracks in the same way…Despite the evidence, some sources say Kazakh authorities have cracked down on peaceful protesters. This is completely wrong information.