MOSCOW – Voters in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan have given overwhelming approval to proposed constitutional changes widely seen as an attempt to repudiate the legacy of former strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the ex-Soviet republic for three decades.
Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission said Monday that 77% of voters supported the constitutional amendments in Sunday's referendum, according to preliminary results, while just under 19% voted against them and about 2.6% of ballots were found invalid. The turnout was 68%.
The vote was called by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has steadily strengthened his grip on power after violent demonstrations in January left more than 230 people dead. The protests were sparked by a steep rise in fuel prices, but they also reflected wide public discontent with a stagnant economy and authoritarian government.
Sunday's referendum included specific questions on modifications like prohibiting the death penalty and banning some officials from joining political parties. But it was broadly about support for Tokayev’s overall course.
Tokayev moved methodically to sideline Nazarbayev, who had led Kazakhstan as its communist boss and then president after 1991 Soviet collapse. Nazarbayev stepped down in 2019, but had continued to hold powerful positions as head of the ruling party and the country's national security council until January's unrest.
Tokayev replaced him as security council head during the unrest, in which many demonstrators chanted “old man out,” referring to the 81-year-old former president. Later in January, Tokayev also took helm of the ruling party.
In March, Tokayev vowed political reforms, including reducing the power of the presidency and strengthening parliament. He also called for reducing government involvement in the economy, and trying to bridge the gap between rich and poor.