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The president-for-life

world Updated: May 18, 2007 14:31 IST
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Kazakhstan's veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev was effectively declared president-for-life on Friday in a move condemned by the nation's opposition as undemocratic.

The Central Asian nation's parliament voted overwhelmingly to allow Nazarbayev, in power since 1989, to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms.

"Taking into account the first president's historic role as one of the founders of a new, independent Kazakhstan, as well as a need to complete the launched political and economic reforms, the joint (parliamentary) commission adopted this decision," parliamentarian Yermet Zhumabayev told deputies.

Only one unidentified member of parliament in more than 100 deputies of both legislative chambers voted against the law which applies only to Nazarbayev. All subsequent leaders can only stay for two terms, according to the law.

Parliament also approved setting up constitutional changes including Nazarbayev's proposal to cut the presidential term to five years.

"It's a further roll-back of democracy," said Oraz Zhandosov, a leader of the opposition Real Ak Zhol party.

"It's common practice: they want to (show) that it's not the president who wants this, but the people."

Nazarbayev, a healthy 66-year-old whose term technically expires in 2012, has given no indication when he plans to stand aside or who will succeed him in his oil-producing state bordering Russia and China.

The move put a question mark over Kazakhstan's ambition to take over the rotating chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009.

Kazakhstan, which sees itself as the most stable country in the volatile Central Asian region, has never held a vote judged by foreign observers to be free and fair.

The opposition is weak and fragmented. Two opposition leaders were killed in mysterious circumstances in late 2005 and early 2006. Nazarbayev's critics called the murders politically motivated.

Nazarbayev, elected last time in December 2005 in a vote declared flawed by international monitors, has frequently said Kazakhstan has its own traditions and must not "blindly follow" Western-style democracy.