ASTANA -- Kazakh lawmakers have given preliminary approval to controversial bills that would ban independent candidates from running in presidential elections and enable the authorities to strip "terrorists" of their citizenship.
The bills, passed by parliament in an initial vote on May 24, will become laws if they are approved in two more votes and signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Under one of the proposed legislations, only candidates for officially registered political organizations and parties would be allowed to register for presidential elections.
Currently, independent candidates are allowed to run in presidential polls.
Another bill would enable the authorities to strip Kazakhs convicted of terrorist activities of their citizenship.
The bill would target those found guilty of organizing or joining terrorist groups, of posing a threat to the Central Asian country's "vitally important interests," or of plotting to kill the president, among other offenses.
Critics say the first bill would aim to prevent politicians outside the ruling elite from taking part in presidential elections.
They say the second proposed legislation might be used against opposition politicians, some of whom have been living in self-imposed exile abroad.
But Justice Minister Marat Beketaev told lawmakers on May 24 that the bills have "nothing to do with politics" and "will not be turned into a political tool."
Beketaev claimed that independent candidates who have taken part in the country's presidential elections in the past were often "not serious."
Observers say that Nazarbaev is preparing to transfer power to a successor who would continue his policies and maintain Kazakhstan’s political and economic elite.
They say the president initiated the bill in order to prevent opposition figures or anyone from his own circle from taking over the oil-rich Central Asian nation of almost 18 million.
One of Nazarbaev's main political opponents, the tycoon and former banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, has said he was aiming to topple the president's government by 2020.
Ablyazov is currently living in self-imposed exile in Europe.
Nazarbaev, 76, has been in power since 1989.