The upper house of the Kazakh parliament has approved a bill allowing President Nursultan Nazarbaev to lead the Central Asian country’s Security Council for life.
The draft amendments adopted by senators on May 31 also change the status of the body from consultative to constitutional, increasing its clout.
The lower house of parliament has already approved the draft legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by Nazarbaev.
The proposed amendments stipulate that the Security Council, described as a "constitutional body formed by the president," will coordinate the implementation of a unified state policy on national security and defense capabilities "in order to preserve internal political stability, protect the constitutional order, state independence, territorial integrity, and national interests of Kazakhstan."
Many in Kazakhstan see the move as a sign that Nazarbaev, 77, is seeking to ensure that he will maintain his grip on power if he steps down as president.
But amid persistent speculation that he may be preparing for a political transition, Nazarbaev said on March 5 that he will “continue to work so that our people will look to the future with confidence."
Speaking at a joint session of parliament, he also said that "the time has come to focus on large social projects" and that he will continue to lead such programs.
Nazarbaev has been in power in the energy-rich Central Asian country since before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
He was last elected in 2015, securing a new five-year term after moving the vote up from 2016 in what was widely seen as a move to strengthen his control.
Rights activists and critics say he has persistently suppressed dissent, prolonged his time in office through undemocratic votes, and used the levers of power to neutralize potential opponents.