ASTANA -- Amid persistent speculation that he may be preparing for a political transition, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has suggested he is not going anywhere soon.
"I have worked, I am working, and I will continue to work so that our people will look to the future with confidence," Nazarbaev said at a joint session of parliament on March 5.
Nazarbaev told members of the Senate and the Majlis that "the time has come to focus on large social projects" and that he will continue to lead such programs.
The remarks came a month after parliament said it was working on a draft law that would allow Nazarbaev to lead Kazakhstan's Security Council for life and change its status from consultative to constitutional, increasing its clout.
Many in Kazakhstan see that move as a sign that Nazarbaev is seeking to ensure that he will maintain his grip on power if he steps down as president.
Nazarbaev, 77, 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.
In January 2017, Nazarbaev announced plans to delegate some of his sweeping powers to parliament and to the government, transforming his own leadership into a role he described as "supreme arbiter."
But while constitutional amendments adopted later in 2017 brought some cosmetic alterations to power sharing between the president, government, and parliament, no major changes occurred.