Former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo)
ASTANA -- Kazakh lawmakers have approved a move annulling the Law on the First President-Leader of the Nation (Elbasy), depriving immediate family members of the Central Asian nation's former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev of legal immunity.
The move on January 13 came two days after the Kazakh Constitutional Court canceled the law "at the request of lawmakers and in accordance with a June 2022 nationwide referendum that removed Nazarbaev's name from the constitution and approved the cancellation of his status as elbasy."
The law in question was adopted in 2000 and provided Nazarbaev and his family members, along with other benefits, lifetime immunity from any prosecution, except if related to high treason. Although the law was canceled, Nazarbaev himself continues to have immunity from prosecution in accordance with the law on presidents. Parliament this week also canceled Nazarbaev’s status of lifetime honorable member of the parliament’s upper chamber, the Senate. President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has taken a series of moves since January 2022 to push Nazarbaev, who ruled the tightly controlled former Soviet republic with an iron fist for almost three decades, further into the background following his resignation in 2019. Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the country's powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of “elbasy.” Even after Nazarbaev's resignation, many Kazakhs remained bitter over the oppression felt during his reign. Those feelings came to a head in January last year when unprecedented anti-government nationwide protests were sparked by a fuel price hike. The demonstrations unexpectedly exploded into deadly countrywide 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 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. One of his nephews was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges. Kazakh critics say Toqaev's initiatives were mainly cosmetic and did not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.