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Kazakhstan: In Keeping With Central Asian Tradition, Nazarbaev To Seek Additional Term

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said he will seek re-election in 2006. RFE/RL reports that all of the post-Soviet Central Asian leaders in one way or another have extended their terms in office in order to hold on to power during the past decade.

Prague, 17 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev last week confirmed during a live phone-in interview on Kazakh television that he will run for another term of office in 2006.

The Kazakh leader said that if the Kazakh people put trust in him, he will continue strengthening the state and increasing the welfare of the nation. "The constitution and laws [of Kazakhstan] allow me to run for president in the next election. So I am definitely going to run if everything is all right, with God's help. It will depend on many things and of course, this matter will be decided by the people," Nazarbaev said.

Nazarbaev has already been elected in popular polls twice. In 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Kazakhstan elected Nazarbaev to the post of president. His position was confirmed by a popular election the following year, marking the beginning of a five-year term.
"[Nazarbaev's announcement] is consistent with the pattern of presidents in Central Asia [who] don't show any inclination to exist as temporary custodians of authority. Instead, they assume a kind of neo-dynastic form of government where they remain in power for as long as possible."

Before elections could be held in 1996, a national referendum was called extending Nazarbaev's first term to the year 2000. But in 1999, the government once again pre-empted the process, holding early elections in order to act on constitutional amendments passed the year before.

Those amendments extended the presidential term from five to seven years. They also abolished all presidential term and age limits.

Kazakh political analyst Borikhan Nurmukhamedov is openly critical of the frequent changes to the country's electoral process, saying they appear specifically suited to meet Nazarbaev's goals of long-term political power. "He was elected in 1990, in 1991 and again in [the] 1995 [referendum] and in 1999 for the fourth time. If he is elected for the fifth time [in 2006], does it mean that we have a constitution written only for President Nazarbaev?" Nurmukhamedov said.

Erik Abdiganiev, vice president of Kazakhstan's Political Education Foundation, also has harsh words regarding Nazarbaev's intention to run for another term. "Unfortunately, we don't have a tradition in Kazakhstan of [the president] stepping down after his term expires. For example, in the United States, as you know, the president steps down after his term comes to an end. Just try to imagine what would happen if one prolonged his term four or five times," Abdiganiev said.

The U.S. Constitution limits the presidency to a maximum of two four-year terms.

Not everyone is critical of Nazarbaev's decision, however. Kazakh political analyst Sabit Zhussipov says Nazarbaev's exit would only bring instability to Kazakhstan. "I think it'll be good if President Nazarbaev runs for presidential elections in 2006. We have financial and industrial groups of oligarchs [in Kazakhstan]. And if the president steps down, a war would start [between them] for the top seat," Zhussipov said.

Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, says the five Central Asian leaders have a shared history of changing electoral rules in order to stay in office. "[Nazarbaev's announcement] is consistent with the pattern of presidents in Central Asia [who] don't show any inclination to exist as temporary custodians of authority. Instead, they assume a kind of neo-dynastic form of government where they remain in power for as long as possible, twisting the rules of democracy and creating new laws as they go along. Laws are meant to limit the power of these leaders [and] limit their terms. And they're changing them to suit their whims," Rhodes said.

Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov was elected president-for-life by the Turkmen People's Council in 1999. Turkmenistan's last presidential election was held in 1992, when Niyazov was installed in office for a five-year term after the adoption of the constitution. In 1994, he extended his tenure in office with a referendum for an additional eight years.

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov was first elected in November 1994, after serving as effective head of state as speaker of parliament for two years. He took office for a second term in 1999. A referendum last year gave Rakhmonov the possibility to remain in office until 2020.

In Uzbekistan, a referendum held in January 2002 approved the extension of the president's term from five to seven years, allowing Islam Karimov to stay in power until 2007 instead of 2005. Karimov became president of independent Uzbekistan in 1991. In 1995 he extended his term in office for five more years through the use of a referendum, and was re-elected in 2000.

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev might represent a notable break from this tradition. He has suggested he will not run for another term when his time in office expires in 2005. Three years ago, Akaev won the presidency for a third five-year term even though the constitution limits the president to two terms in office. The Constitutional Court ruled that Akaev could run again since he had been elected only once since the country adopted a new constitution in 1993.

(Edige Magauin from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)