Kazakhs set to vote on sweeping changes to the Constitution

Nur-Sultan, June 4 (EFE).- Voters in Kazakhstan head to the polls tomorrow to approve or reject sweeping changes to the former Soviet republic’s constitution that would soften President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s grip on power in favor of a more decentralized government.

Sunday’s referendum, the first in 27 years, is aimed at amending the Constitution to move from a “super-presidential” State to a presidential one with an influential Parliament and a responsible Government, according to the president of the Central Asian nation.

Some 12 million Kazakhs are called to vote en bloc on a total of 56 amendments that will affect 33 articles of the Magna Carta, that is, they will answer a single question: Do you accept the changes and additions to the Constitution of the Republic as proposed by Tokayev?

The reforms are aimed at limiting the powers of the president, increasing the functions of Parliament, and promoting improvements in the political party, justice and electoral systems, with greater participation of civil society and more protection of human rights, among other changes.

Specifically, the amendments aim to consolidate the impartiality of the Kazakh president with respect to all political parties and movements and will prohibit the closest relatives of the Kazakh head of state from holding political and leadership positions in the quasi-public sector.

The reforms come after the violent demonstrations last January, fueled by social discontent with corruption and the country’s elite, in which the family of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had great influence and vast economic interests.

Several of his relatives, especially Nazarbayev’s sons-in-law, until recently held high positions in the national oil and gas transportation company, among other companies.

Those protests turned into riots that caused 240 deaths and nearly 4,600 injuries and were repressed by Kazakh forces in an “anti-terrorist” operation and amid reports of an attempted coup.

Another block of the reforms of the Constitution refers to human rights with the creation of the Constitutional Court -until now there was a Constitutional Council that only issued opinions-, the consolidation of the status of the Human Rights Commissioner in the Magna Carta or the prohibition of the death penalty.

On Friday, the head of state called on citizens to support the amendments to the Constitution.

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