Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has postponed a controversial plan to privatize state-owned agricultural land, as ministries tied to the plan were rocked by resignations and reprimands.
The government had recently announced that just under 2 percent of the country's agricultural land would be put up for auction beginning on July 1. But amid the ensuing outcry over the prospect of corruption and foreign ownership of Kazakh land, Nazarbaev conceded that the issue requires more discussion.
"I have made a decision today to announce a moratorium to the implementation of the land law amendments regarding land ownership until next year," Nazarbaev said at a special cabinet gathering in Astana. "We do not need laws that our people do not like."
He said the plan would be implemented in 2017 and announced the formation of a government commission to oversee land reforms.
"We have to do everything to explain to our people the legislation on land privatization via the commission's work," Nazarbaev said.
Nazarbaev’s announcement on May 5 follows nearly two weeks of demonstrations across the country. Many participants expressed concern that the plan would allow foreigners to own Kazazkh agricultural land.
On April 26, Nazarbaev defended the plan, promising to "punish provocateurs" who spread the idea that foreigners would be able to purchase the land. The government stressed that while foreigners would be able to rent farmland for up to 25 years, they would not be able to own land or participate in the planned auctions.
Demonstrators have also expressed concern that the land auctions would not be done in a transparent way, and that the country's elite, rather than farmers, would end up owning the land.
Just before Nazarbaev said the plan would be postponed, the official who announced the auction plan on March 30, Economy Minister Erbolat Dosaev, resigned, along with his deputy.
In addition, Agriculture Minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov was reportedly reprimanded by the president for not being fully fit for his post.