Kazakhs overwhelmingly support changing Constitution after violent protests

Nursultan, Jun 5 (EFE).- Kazakhs overwhelmingly cast their votes on Sunday for changing the Constitution and making the transition from a “super-presidential” state to a presidential one with a stronger Parliament after violent protests swept the country last January.

According to exit polling by the Public Opinion Institute, 74.8 percent of Kazakh voters supported amending the 1995 Constitution, while SOCIS-A found that 76.7 percent approved such a chance and the Democracy Institute said that 79.4 percent of voters were in favor of the move.

More than eight million Kazakhs, or 68.44 percent of all eligible voters, participated in the country’s first referendum in 27 years, according to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), which will make public the preliminary results of the referendum on Monday.

The president of the largest Central Asian economy, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, had hoped the public would support the plan he proposed a little over a month ago to unite and calm society in the former Soviet republic after the violent protests.

“Today is an historic day for our country. The citizens are making a momentous decision” after three decades of leadership by the nation’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Tokayev said.

The Kazakh leader, who has governed the nation since Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019, said that the referendum is a guarantee that the January events will not be repeated, given that the road to a “new” Kazakhstan has now been opened.

The vote was held five months after the violence, which had erupted amid social discontent with corruption among the country’s elite and Nazarbayev’s family, the members of which had great nationwide influence along with huge and wideranging economic and political interests.

The protests, which initially broke out after a hike in liquefied natural gas prices, morphed into disturbances and riots that left 240 people death and about 4,600 injured and which were suppressed with the help of troops from Russia and several other allied post-Soviet republics amid reports of an attempted coup d’etat.

Since then, Tokayev has managed to emerge as an independent figure – with many people believing that Nazarbayev had continued to govern from the shadows – and apparently he has been able to dislodge from the grip of his predecessor, his relatives and cronies important economic and political portfolios and offices.

Nurgaini Toktasynova, an 80-year-old retiree, told EFE at one of the country’s polling places that she went to vote “with the hope that there will be a new Kazakhstan and that the Constitution will change for the better.”

“We had difficulties, but we’re hoping for improvements,” she said.

Husan, a 50-year-old teacher, said that “there should be mutual understanding between the authorities and the people.”

“I think that during the 30 years of (post-Soviet) independence there have been difficulties and I hope that what the president is proposing now for the change will be correct,” he said.

Kazakhs had to vote yes or no on a bloc of 56 amendments affecting 33 articles of the Constitution.

The proposed reforms are designed to reduce the excessive powers of the president during the Nazarbayev era such that he will not belong to any political party and will not be able to nullify the decisions of the “akim,” or executive heads of the regions, cities and the capital, among other restrictions.

In addition, the reforms will prohibit the closest relatives of the head of state to occupy political posts or engage in leadership activities within the quasi-public sector.

On the other hand, both the Majilis, or lower house of Parliament, and the Senate will gain powers and responsibilities.

Another bloc of reforms concerns human rights.

The changed Constitution will include the creation of a Constitutional Court (up to now the existing Constitutional Council had only been able to issue “opinions”), the status of the Human Rights Commission will be consolidated and the death penalty will be banned.

EFE kk-mos/vh/bp

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