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Nazarbaev Gets Cold Feet on Political Reform

By News Briefing Central Asia
The Kazak president may go back on his plan to give parliament more power after observing the escalating political tensions in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, both of which have stronger parliaments than Kazakstan.

On April 9, President Nursultan Nazarbaev stated that Kazakstan would retain its current presidential system. It was precisely the abrupt transfer of power to parliaments that caused the current political confrontations taking place in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, he said.

In February, Nazarbaev announced plans to change Kazakstan’s constitution to give the legislature greater powers, for example allowing the parliamentary majority to choose a government, to appoint the Constitutional Council, the Central Electoral Committee and the Accounts Committee, and to control the government budget.

Now, however, Nazarbaev has scaled back the rhetoric, talking merely of “amending certain points in the constitution” and saying that although parliament will get more powers, it will still operate under presidential supervision.

NBCentralAsia analysts say the unrest in Kiev and Bishkek could have a substantial impact on Nazarbaev’s plans to give parliament more constitutional powers.

Protests have been raging in Ukraine for the past two weeks, pitting with groups that support President Viktor Yushchenko’s decision to dissolve parliament on the one side against Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s supporters, who say the president’s move is unconstitutional, on the other

Bishkek, too, is seeing an escalation in the political stand-off as opposition supporters led by former prime minister Felix Kulov launched an extended rally on April 11 to demand early presidential elections and constitutional reform.

“Events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan may influence the course of constitutional reform in Kazakstan,” said NBCentralAsia political analyst Eduard Poletaev.

“Amendments to the constitution will certainly be aimed at expanding parliament’s powers, but it will be largely for show. The president and his team will remain the hierarchy of power and the driving force in politics.”

Analysts note that Kazak media coverage of political events in both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan has been biased towards heightening fears of political change. So the public will most likely welcome news that the presidential system is to remain in place.

“Kazakstan’s people cannot envisage that frequent changes of government could have positive effects. Kazakstan without Nazarbaev is a fairly terrifying concept for most people,” said Poletaev.

Political observer Daur Dosybiev also believes events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan may stifle at birth Nazarbaev’s plans to strengthen parliament – but he thinks this is a good thing.

“Any weakening in Nazarbaev’s position will lead to chaos and dissention, driven by the ambitions of Kazakstan’s political and economic elites,” he said.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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