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Kazakhstan: Prime Minister Resigns Over Government Land-Reform Dispute

Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov stepped down yesterday in a move he said was prompted by a dispute over controversial legislation allowing the private ownership of land.

Prague, 12 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev yesterday accepted the resignation of his prime minister, Imanghali Tasmaghambetov, saying he would name a replacement on 12 June.

The Kazakh cabinet, which is constitutionally required to step down following the prime minister's resignation, will remain in office until a new government is appointed.

Tasmaghambetov told reporters yesterday he had tendered his resignation last month. The outgoing prime minister, who had been in office for just 18 months, did not enjoy easy relations with the Majilis, Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament. But officially, he said his resignation was prompted by the knowledge that the results of a recent confidence vote -- appearing to support his stance on a controversial land-reform bill -- were falsified.

"The reason was the vote of confidence made by the parliament last month. The results of the vote were falsified; the whole performance was organized by some Majilis deputies. As prime minister, I had no right to continue to cover the whole thing up, and I officially asked our president to release me from this position on 19 May," Tasmaghambetov said.

The vote of confidence was intended to gauge support for a government proposal to allow, for the first time, the private ownership of Kazakhstan's vast agricultural land.

Tasmaghambetov called for the vote in order to secure the passage of the draft law, which was meeting resistance from the normally compliant Communist Party, which said the bill did not sufficiently protect rural communities. The debate had festered for nearly six months, prompting Tasmaghambetov to criticize his opponents for putting a brake on economic reform.

The prime minister emerged from the vote victorious but weakened. The two houses of parliament had failed to surpass the two-thirds threshold required for a no-confidence motion to pass. But 55 of 77 deputies in the lower house had voted against the government.

Tasmaghambetov claims that the vote-counting commission comprised solely members of the lower house. Interfax cites him as saying the omission of upper-house vote-counters "suggests the conclusion that the results of the voting in the [lower house] were falsified."

Still, the overall vote of confidence cleared the way for private landownership in Kazakhstan, and Nazarbaev signaled his willingness to sign the bill once the Constitutional Court confirmed its legality, which it did on 10 June.

The president's acceptance of Tasmaghambetov's resignation, however, appears to hand parliament an opportunity to scale back the land-reform bill. Nazarbaev, in a reversal of his earlier position, said yesterday he will send the bill back to the lower house.

"President Nazarbaev came to us [on 11 June] to discuss the land code," says Ualikhan Qalizhan, a deputy in the lower house of parliament. "He said that he has revised and researched all the chapters of the land code. After taking into account the consequences of the draft code on Kazakh society, he decided to introduce some amendments. If everything is fine, we will discuss the president's proposals on 27 June."

It is not clear who will take Tasmaghambetov's post. But observers say that Nazarbaev's grip on power remains undiminished by the shakeup.

Baltash Tursymbaev, a former Kazakh deputy prime minister, said the question of who will be appointed next is not of crucial importance.

"Someone will be appointed for sure," he said. "But in the past 10 years, none of the prime ministers have been appointed properly, taking into account their personal background, abilities, and the opinion of ordinary citizens. I don't care who will be appointed. We'll see on Friday [13 June]."

The 46-year-old Tasmaghambetov led a government largely known for doing Nazarbaev's bidding. Before his appointment to head the government in January 2002, he had served as education minister and head of the presidential administration. Prior to Kazakhstan's independence in 1991, Tasmaghambetov was the leader of the Soviet Komsomol youth organization.

(RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merkhat Sharipzhanov contributed to this report.)