Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)
ASTANA -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has officially signed legislation to replace the current system of a maximum of two consecutive five-year presidential terms with a single seven-year term and to change the name of the capital back to Astana from Nur-Sultan.
The action on September 17 came a day after Kazakhstan’s lower chamber of parliament, the Mazhilis, approved Toqaev’s proposal to make the changes as part of his campaign to create what he calls "a new Kazakhstan."
Toqaev had in 2019 changed the capital's name to Nur-Sultan in honor of his predecessor and the nation’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. But Toqaev has in recent months been attempting to distance himself from his increasingly unpopular predecessor.
On September 1, he called for an early presidential election in the coming months in which he will seek a second term, while also proposing an increase in the presidential term from five to seven years. Under the new system, future presidents would be barred from seeking more than one term. Nazarbaev, who had run the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, chose Toqaev as his successor when he stepped down in 2019. Though he was no longer president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of “elbasy,” or leader of the nation. Many citizens, however, remained upset by the oppression felt during Nazarbaev's reign. Those feelings came to a head in January when unprecedented anti-government protests started over a fuel price hike and then exploded into countrywide deadly unrest over perceived corruption under the Nazarbaev regime and the cronyism that allowed his family and close friends to enrich themselves while ordinary citizens failed to share in the oil-rich Central Asian nation's wealth. Toqaev subsequently stripped Nazarbaev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several of Nazarbaev’s relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges. In June, a Toqaev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbaev's name from the constitution and annulled his status as “elbasy.” Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and do not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.