Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will delegate some of his sweeping powers to the Central Asian nation’s parliament and cabinet, he said on Wednesday, a move that could facilitate an eventual political transition.
Kazakhstan, an exporter of oil and metals, is the only former Soviet republic that is still run by its communist-era leader. Aged 76, Nazarbayev has so far not identified a clear successor and the uncertainty is a concern to investors.
In a brief televised address, Nazarbayev said proposed constitutional reforms would allow parliament to form a cabinet which would in turn have more powers to manage the economy.
Under the current constitution, Nazarbayev appoints all cabinet members. His Nur Otan party dominates parliament which has no serious opposition parties.
Following the reform, the president will focus on strategic matters, foreign policy and national security and will serve as an arbiter between the branches of power, Nazarbayev said.
“The point of the proposed reform is in a serious redistribution of powers and democratization of the political system as a whole,” he said. He said the presidency will play the role of “supreme arbiter” between various branches of government.
Nazarbayev’s office said in a statement the draft reform package would be published on Thursday for a month-long “nationwide discussion” before being handed over to parliament.
Nazarbayev has run the nation of 18 million people bordering Russia and China with a firm hand since 1989, first as regional Communist Party chief and then, after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the president of a newly independent nation.
The decision to revise the constitution follows the death last September of Islam Karimov, president of neighbouring Uzbekistan, who had also been in power since 1989.
“No doubt, this is the beginning of ‘Operation Successor’,” said opposition politician Amirzhan Kosanov. “Groups within the elite will split power among themselves … (Informal) clans have become strong enough and they want their share of power in the post-Nazarbayev era as means to protect their wealth.”
Among the people viewed as potential successors to Nazarbayev are his eldest daughter Dariga, who is a parliamentary deputy, Deputy Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, speaker of the Senate.
Under the Kazakh constitution, Tokayev would automatically assume the presidency in the event of Nazarbayev’s death, pending fresh elections.
Devolving some presidential powers could make it easier for the political elite to manage a succession by splitting key roles between different players rather than allowing one successor to concentrate power in his or her hands.