The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, Richard Hoagland, has used his final news conference in Astana to criticize as a setback for democracy plans to hold a national referendum to extend the term in office of President Nursultan Nazarbaev by 10 years.
Hoagland said January 5 that in order for there to be a democracy, Kazakhs must have a choice of different ideas and different personalities.
"For people to have a democratic voice in their country, they should have a bigger choice than simply 'yes' or 'no,’” Hoagland said. “There should be a choice of different ideas and different personalities."
Hoagland, who is leaving Kazakhstan to take a diplomatic post in Pakistan, said U.S. concern about the matter is an expression of democratic principles, not a condemnation of Nazarbaev personally.
The Kazakh parliament in late December backed the holding of a referendum that could result in Nazarbaev staying in office for another decade -- until 2020 -- bypassing presidential elections scheduled for 2012.
The 70-year-old Nazarbayev has already ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years.
Supporters of the president are reported to have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures of citizens who favor the holding of a referendum.