Kazakhstan renames capital and extends presidential term

MOSCOW (AP) — The president of Kazakhstan on Saturday signed constitutional amendments that extended the presidential term to seven years and brought back the former name of the country’s capital.

The changes are part of political and economic reforms President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for after violent protests rocked the country in January, killing more than 200 people. The unrest was sparked by a sharp rise in fuel prices, but also reflected widespread dismay at the country’s politics, which for more than 30 years had been dominated by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his party.

The Kazakh parliament unanimously backed the amendments in two readings on Friday, and Tokayev signed them into law the following day. They extend the presidential term to seven years from the current five, but also prohibit any president from running for a second term. The changes also rename the country’s capital, now called Nur-Sultan, to Astana.

Astana became the capital of Kazakhstan in 1997 when Nazarbayev, who ruled the country for three decades under the Soviet Union and after its independence in 1991, moved it from Almaty. After his resignation in 2019, his successor Tokayev decided to call him Nur-Sultan – in honor of Nazarbayev, who retained enormous influence as head of the ruling party and county security council.

But Tokaev removed him from office after the deadly January unrest, which was partly based on dissatisfaction with the power Nazarbayev still held, and announced sweeping reforms.

Earlier this month he called for a snap presidential election and announced the decision to bring back the former name of the country’s capital.

Tokayev has already declared that he will stand for election. It was not immediately clear whether the new amendments would allow him to do so, but similar constitutional changes in Russia and Belarus allowed incumbent leaders to run again under the amended constitution.

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