It probably will not come as a surprise to most that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev is planning to run for another term as president.
One of his most-trusted advisers, Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, all but confirmed the Kazakh leader's intention when he said in an interview on September 16 that "in the 2012 elections, [Nazarbaev] sees no rivals to himself or internal threats to the system."
Nazarbaev has the right to run for what would be his fourth term in office since 1991 independence due to changes in the constitution in 2007 that removed term limits for the "first" president of the country. At the time, everyone assumed that meant Nazarbaev, who turned 70 in July, would remain in office until his death.
But new legislation passed earlier this year that bestowed upon Nazarbaev the title of "Leader of the Nation" ("El Bashi") raised the possibility that Nazarbaev might be planning to step down as president.
Being "El Bashi" means Nazarbaev could effectively continue to run the country without necessarily being president, since he would have basically the same powers as he enjoys now as president. As "El Bashi," even if he's not president, Nazarbaev is to be consulted on all policy matters, domestic and foreign, has the right to address parliament, to appear on state television and radio to address the nation, and enjoys immunity from investigation or prosecution.
Another privilege Nazarbaev enjoys as "first" president is that if he wins the 2012 elections, his term will be seven years. If anyone else were to win, the term would be five years, and no one but the first president can serve more than two terms.
There was speculation that the new title would pave the way for Nazarbaev to hand pick his successor, someone who would preserve the system Nazarbaev built and guarantee the "first" president's legacy for at least another generation. And as "El Bashi," Nazarbaev has the power to watch over such a successor.
Pundits have floated the names of several people that might fit the successor mold. But if Nazarbaev does intend to run for president, it would be a strong sign that he has not yet found anyone to his liking.
It also means that, if he were to win, Nazarbaev's next term in office would expire in December 2019. He would be 79 years old.
-- Bruce Pannier