ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Thursday rejected a draft law to make him “Leader of the Nation” and grant him special powers for life if he resigned, showing he is not about to quit as head of state.
The draft law, proposed by parliament last month, would grant Nazarbayev immunity from prosecution and control over some government policy should he resign. Analysts say this could have paved the way for him to appoint a pliant successor.
But Nazarbayev, 69, said in a televised address that he would not sign the law. He cited the Central Asian state’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) among his reasons for rejecting the bill.
“I sincerely thank all Kazakh citizens for your support and your evaluation of my work. At the same time, I think the status of ‘Leader of the Nation’ cannot be acquired simply on the basis of the letter of the law, decrees and other legal acts,” he said.
The absence of a clear successor to Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for two decades, is the biggest worry for investors who have poured over $100 billion into Central Asia’s largest economy since it broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Nazarbayev’s current term in office expires in 2012 but he can run for an indefinite number of terms according to a law introduced by his party in 2007.
“Many among Kazakhstan’s elite believed that, by accepting this law, the head of state would have laid the foundations for leaving the presidency,” said Andrei Chebotaryov, director of the Alternative think tank in Almaty.
“He has given a clear signal that he is staying.”
Parliament, however, has still to vote on the law. According to the constitution, the president’s decision could be overruled should three-quarters of deputies in each house of parliament vote in favor.
“I ask you, dear parliamentary deputies, to have a proper understanding of my position with regard to my refusal to sign these laws put in front of me,” Nazarbayev said.
The countries of ex-Soviet Central Asia have yet to see a transition of power that does not involve a revolution or the death of a leader. A violent revolt ousted Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April as president of neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
Parliament, which has no opposition deputies, had begun work on the first law that would have provided Nazarbayev with some control over government policy after leaving the presidency.
By retaining some power, he would theoretically have been able to ease his chosen successor into power, analysts said.
The law would also have given Nazarbayev immunity from criminal prosecution for any actions taken while in office and protected all assets of the president and his family.
Nazarbayev was speaking in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital, after attending an investment forum where he revealed the resource-rich country’s economy grew by more than 7 percent in the first four months of the year.
In his address on state television, he said Kazakhstan’s role as chair of the OSCE, as well as several other regional bodies, was partly behind his reason to reject the draft law.
“We should value such trust and carry out such an esteemed mission in a worthy manner,” he said.
Rights groups have criticized the West for allowing Kazakhstan to take the rotating chair this year of the OSCE, Europe’s main security and human rights watchdog.
“The president seems to be creating an image of himself as a democratically minded head of state,” said Chebotaryov. “It’s a message to the international community of why Kazakhstan is heading the OSCE.”
Additional reporting by Maria Gordeyeva in Almaty and Raushan Nurshayeva in Astana