The veteran president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has been sworn in once again after winning elections that were not considered 'free and fair' by a landslide. He has retained as his prime minister Karim Masimov.
Nursultan Nazarbayev hopes to stay in office until 2016 if his health allows
Thousands turned up to cheer on the streets of the Kazakh capital Astana on Friday as President Nazarbayev marched up the red carpet into the Palace of Independence to take the presidential oath for a fourth time.
"Today is a special day for me," the 70-year-old said in his inaugural address. "The Kazakhs have made their historic choice and voted for me and I express my thanks."
Nazarbayev, who has sweeping powers and is not tolerant of dissent, was re-elected last Sunday by a landslide in polls that European monitors said were marred by "serious irregularities."
No election since 1991 has been considered free and fair by international monitors
No election held since 1991 has ever been judged free or fair by international monitors. Parliamentary elections are due in 2012 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has called on democratic reforms to be implemented by then.
However, the US and the EU were quick to congratulate Nazarbayev on his landslide victory at the weekend.
Shortly after Friday’s ceremony, the entire cabinet resigned in a formality as had been expected. The docile parliament later unanimously supported the president's nomination of Karim Masimov who was re-appointed prime minister.
"I’m overwhelmingly proud of the fact that you have trusted me to participate in the big tasks required to grow Kazakhstan, our country," Masimov told Nazarbayev.
He now has 10 days to present the president with his nominations for ministerial posts in the new government. In the meantime, the ministers will retain their jobs in an acting capacity.
President Nazarbayev, a former steelworker, has run the country since Soviet times. He has been appreciated both by Russia and the West as a guarantor of stability, overseeing market reforms and attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment, mainly in the country’s oil and metals. He is expected to remain in office until 2016 so long as his health allows.
'Modern and powerful'
Dissent is not tolerated by the president
He said on Friday that Kazakhstan had become a modern and powerful state in his two decades of presidency and promised that the nation of 16.4 million would join the world’s most competitive economies by the end of the decade. Kazakhstan is already the former Soviet republic in Central Asia with the highest living standards.
"The tempo of our reforms is much faster than in any other advanced state where democracy has been developing for centuries," Nazarbayev said after kissing the national flag.
In the wake of international criticism, he also promised to increase the powers of parliament and the responsibilities of the government as well as to improve the electoral process and to delegate more power to the regions.
"We will continue working on further democratization of our society and will develop a network of responsible and free mass media," he added without providing any further details.
However, he also claimed that the elections had been the "best organised and most democratic not only in the history of modern Kazakhstan but, according to experts, all of Central Asia."
His critics will disagree. Last week, just before the election, the publisher of the main opposition paper, Golos Respubliki, went missing. He later emerged in Belarus in unclear circumstances.
act / Reuters / AFP
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein