NUR-SULTAN — Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called for an early presidential election in the coming months in which he will seek a second term in office, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.
In an annual address on September 1, Tokayev also proposed increasing the presidential term to seven years from five years while barring future presidents from seeking more than one term.
“I propose that we hold early presidential elections in the autumn of 2022,” Tokayev told parliament, saying measures were needed to “strengthen our statehood” and “maintain the momentum of reforms.”
Tokayev also called for early parliamentary elections to be held in the first half of 2023. He said the elections will be held both for the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, and the maslikhats, local councils on all levels.
A presidential vote had been due in Kazakhstan in 2024 and parliamentary elections in 2025. To call an election, parliament must approve such a proposal and then pass it on to the Central Electoral Commission, which officially sets the date.
Tokayev’s statement comes as human rights groups and political activists in the Central Asian nation demand a full investigation into violent nationwide protests that rocked the country in early January. Some 238 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed in the unrest.
Many in Kazakhstan, including relatives of those killed during the unrest, have been demanded an explanation from Tokayev on his decision to invite Russia-led troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization to disperse the protests, as well as his public “shoot to kill without warning” order.
The unrest occurred after a peaceful demonstration in the western region of Manghystau on January 2 over a fuel-price hike tapped into deep-seated resent over the country’s leadership, leading to widespread antigovernment protests.
Thousands of people were detained by officials during and after the protests, which Tokayev said were caused by “20,000 terrorists” from abroad, a claim for which authorities have provided no evidence.
Human rights groups have provided evidence that peaceful demonstrators and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.
In his September 1 address, Tokayev announced that all of those arrested or convicted for taking part in the January unrest, as well as law enforcement officers arrested for alleged beating and torturing the detained protesters, will be granted clemency.
“The amnesty will not affect the main suspects accused of organizing the unrest, as well as those charged with high treason and attempting to seize power,” Tokayev said. He gave no further details such as naming such suspects or an exact number of those arrested during and after the unrest.
The former chief of Kazakhstan’s Committee of National Security, Karim Masimov, who was a close associate of Tokayev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and three of his ex-deputies were arrested after the unrest and charged with high treason.
Karimov’s fourth deputy, Samat Abish, who is a nephew of Nazarbayev, was interrogated and identified as a person on interest in the case.
Nazarbayev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades before resigning in March 2019 and picking his longtime ally Tokayev as his successor.
Still, he retained sweeping powers as the head of the Security Council, enjoying substantial powers with the title of “elbasy” or leader of the nation.
In June that year, Tokayev was announced the winner in an early presidential election that was followed by protests in the country’s financial capital, Almaty, and some other cities, saying the poll was rigged.
In the wake of the January unrest, Tokayev stripped Nazarbayev of his Security Council role, taking it over himself. Since then, several Nazarbayev relatives and allies have been pushed out of their positions or resigned. Some have been arrested on corruption charges.
In June this year, a Tokayev-initiated referendum removed Nazarbayev’s name from the constitution and annulled his status as elbasy.
Kazakh critics say Tokayev’s initiatives were mainly cosmetic and would not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country that has been plagued for years by rampant corruption and nepotism.
In his annual address, Tokayev said he will suspend until 2028 a program gradually raising the retirement age for women from 58 to that of men, which is 63.
That statement appeared to be a response to numerous protests by feminist activists in several major cities in recent weeks who demanded the program to be cancelled.
The upcoming election, the date of which is yet to be set, is expected to strengthen Tokayev’s mandate as an independent leader, should he win.
Kazakhstan, a tightly controlled oil-rich former Soviet republic of some 19 million, has never held a presidential election deemed free and fair by western observers.