Kazakhs back sweeping reforms to move past Nazarbayev era

Voters in Kazakhstan have overwhelmingly backed constitutional amendments in a referendum, giving political capital to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who aims to emerge from the shadow of his former mentor and founding leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Tokayev has said the referendum will decentralise the political system and outlaw nepotism. He has promoted the reform as a foundation for a new social contract in the oil-rich Central Asian country allied with Russia, and analysts say the vote could be seen as a rehearsal for his bid to win a second term as president.

“The referendum can be considered validated,” national electoral commission chair Nurlan Abdirov said on Monday, claiming that 77 percent of voters had backed the move.

The official turnout was put at just over 68 percent.

Tokayev proposed the reform package after putting down a coup attempt amid deadly unrest in January and removing his former patron 81-year-old Nazarbayev and his relatives from important positions in the public sector.

‘The era of elbasy is over’

The 69-year-old president on Sunday said that the referendum was only the beginning of his reform bid.

“The paradigm of relations between the state and society is changing, human rights are being put first,” he said after casting his vote.

Prior to January’s crisis, Tokayev was widely seen as ruling in the shadow of Nazarbayev and his super-rich relatives.

Even after stepping down as president, Nazarbayev retained the constitutional title of “elbasy”, or “leader of the nation” – a role that afforded him influence over policymaking regardless of his formal position.

The new constitution will exclude that status.As the new constitution does not acknowledge this status, “we can say with confidence that the era of “elbasy” is over,” Gaziz Abishev, a political analyst, told AFP.

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