Nur-Sultan, June 5 (EFE).- Voters in Kazakhstan headed to the polls on Sunday in the country’s first referendum in 27 years to amend the Constitution and move from a “super-presidential” State to a presidential one with a Parliament with more powers, just five months after violent protests rocked Central Asia’s leading economy.
Before casting his vote, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted that the referendum was a guarantee that events like the protests in January would not be repeated.
“Today is an important historical day for our country. Citizens are making a momentous decision,” he said.
A total of 11,722,536 citizens of the ninth largest country in the world are called to vote in 10,012 polling stations, including 65 abroad.
At 06:00 GMT, voter participation was 43.70% or 5.12 million casted ballots.
Nurgaini Toktasynova, an 80-year-old retiree, told Efe that she went to vote “in the hope that there will be a new Kazakhstan and that the Constitution will change for the better.”
“I trust Tokayev. We had difficulties, but we are expecting only improvements,” she stressed.
Husan, a 50-year-old teacher, said, “there must be a mutual understanding between the authorities and the people.”
“I think that during the 30 years of independence there have been difficulties and I hope that what the president is now proposing for change is correct. The main thing is that we have peace, that there is no situation like the one in Ukraine. I think we must move forward and we will overcome any difficulty,” he said.
Kazakhs are called to vote en bloc on a total of 56 amendments that will affect 33 articles of the Magna Carta.
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 to the Basic Law will 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 protests 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.
The protests, which initially broke out over the doubling of the price of liquefied gas, turned into riots that caused 240 deaths and nearly 4,600 injuries and were repressed by Kazakh forces amid complaints of an attempted coup.
Another block of the reforms establishes the creation of a Constitutional Court -until now there was a Constitutional Council that issued only opinions-, the consolidation of the status of the Human Rights Commissioner in the Magna Carta, and the prohibition of the death penalty.
This is the first referendum since the current Constitution of Kazakhstan was adopted in 1995, four years after the country proclaimed independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
All subsequent constitutional reforms were approved by Parliament.
For the referendum to be valid, there must be 50% participation plus one vote and it will only be approved if it has the support of more than half of the voters in 12 of the 17 regions of the country. EFE