Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved a step closer to shoring up his rule until 2020 on Friday when lawmakers threw their support behind a referendum to skip the next two planned presidential elections.
Many Kazakhs refer to Nazarbayev as 'Papa'
Kazakhstan's parliament has voted to hold a referendum on extending the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to 2020, a move that would require skipping planned presidential elections in 2012 and 2017.
The national referendum, which the United States has criticized as a "setback for democracy," would allow the veteran leader to govern for a third decade.
"The people want Nursultan Abishevich to continue building and strengthening our state, and the will of our people is law," said Yerlan Nigmatulin, a deputy in the Mazhilis lower house of parliament, referring to the president by name and patronymic.
The vote came after a petition backing the referendum was signed by 5 million Kazakhs - one half of the electorate and one third of the population.
Support was quick in coming for the referendum after being kick-started by a forum of 850 academics, farmers, war veterans and district council members in late December.
Opposition groups have attacked the legitimacy of the petition, claiming it would be nearly impossible to legally gather 5 million votes in such a short time.
They also say that any extension of Nazarbayev's tenure would signal a step away from the rights and security principals Kazakhstan agreed to when chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last year.
Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler