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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazarbayev Ends Term Limits for Self

ReutersNursultan Nazarbayev
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Tuesday approved constitutional amendments allowing him to stay in office for life, a move the opposition condemned as an attempt to establish a personality cult.

In sharp contrast to the opposition's criticism, the United States welcomed the amendments, which also included giving additional responsibilities to the parliament, as a "good step forward for democracy in Kazakhstan."

The parliament proposed last week to allow Nazarbayev, in power since 1989 and whose current term expires in 2012, to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms in the oil-rich state.

Nazarbayev signed the amendments Monday, and they became law with their official publication Tuesday.

The constitutional article published in the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper stipulated that the president should be elected for a maximum two terms, but added in reference to Nazarbayev: "This limitation does not apply to the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan."

"There are certain elements of Nazarbayev's [personality] cult in this," said Aidos Sarimov of the opposition-linked Altynbek Sarsenbayev think tank.

The opposition has long accused Nazarbayev, 66, and his family of tightening their grip over most aspects of life in the former Soviet nation, which is key to U.S. and European Union plans to diversify energy supplies to bypass Russia.

Kazakhstan has never held elections judged free and fair by international monitors.

U.S. Ambassador John Ordway, whose country sees Kazakhstan as a source of stability in a volatile region, did not share the opposition's skepticism.

"It's a very speculative question to go from amendments that change term limits to a supposition that President Nazarbayev becomes president for life," he told reporters.

But he added: "In the case of Kazakhstan, [the Nazarbayev clause] came up with no public discussion, which I think is probably not the best way to go about taking such decisions."

Ordway said the clause on Nazarbayev "tends to distract the attention from the overall positive forward movement."

Other amendments included a number of constitutional changes such as raising the number of parliamentary deputies, cutting presidential terms to five years from seven years and allowing the parliament to play a bigger role in picking the prime minister.