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NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has called for a snap presidential election in the coming months in which he will seek a second term.

In a September 1 annual address, Toqaev also proposed increasing the presidential term from five years to seven years while banning future presidents from running for more than one term.

“I propose that we hold snap presidential elections in the fall of 2022,” Toqaev told parliament, saying steps were needed to “strengthen our state” and “maintain the momentum of reforms.”

Toqaev also called for early parliamentary elections to be held in the first half of 2023. He said the elections would be held for both the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, and the maslikhats, the local councils at all levels.

A presidential vote was scheduled in Kazakhstan in 2024 and parliamentary elections in 2025. To call an election, parliament must approve such a proposal and then forward it to the Central Election Commission, which officially sets the date.

Toqaev’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.

Protesters burst into the mayor’s office in Almaty on January 5 and set fire to it and nearby vehicles amid unrest that has spread across Kazakhstan over rising prices fuel.

Many people in Kazakhstan, including relatives of those killed during the unrest, have demanded an explanation from Toqaev about his decision to invite Russian-led troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization to break up the protests, as well than on his audience “shoot to kill without warning”.

The unrest came after a peaceful protest in the western region of Manghystau on January 2 over a fuel price hike sparked deep resentment against the country’s leadership, leading to widespread anti-government protests.

Thousands of people were detained by officials during and after the protests, which Toqaev 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 protesters and people who had nothing to do with the protests were among those killed by law enforcement and military personnel.

In his September 1 speech, Toqaev announced that all those arrested or convicted for participating in the January unrest, as well as law enforcement officers arrested for beating and torturing detained protesters, will be granted clemency.

“The amnesty will not affect the main suspects accused of organizing the unrest, as well as those accused of high treason and attempted seizure of power,” Toqaev said. He gave no other details such as the names of those suspects or the exact number of people arrested during and after the unrest.

The former head of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, Karim Masimov, who was a close associate of Toqaev’s predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbaev, 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 Nazarbaev, was questioned and identified as someone interested in the case.

Nazarbaev ruled Kazakhstan for nearly three decades before stepping down in March 2019 and choosing his longtime ally Toqaev as his successor.

Yet he retained sweeping powers as head of the Security Council, enjoying substantial powers with the title “elbasy” or head of the nation.

In June of the same year, Toqaev was declared the winner of a snap presidential election that was followed by protests in the country’s financial capital, Almaty, and other cities claiming the ballot was rigged.

Following the January unrest, Toqaev stripped Nazarbaev of his role on the Security Council, taking him on himself. Since then, several relatives and allies of Nazarbaev have been removed from their posts or resigned. Some have been arrested for corruption.

In June of that year, a referendum initiated by Toqaev removed Nazarbaev’s name from the constitution and nullified his status as an elbasy.

Kazakh critics say Toqaev’s moves were mostly cosmetic and would not change the nature of the autocratic system in a country plagued by years of rampant corruption and nepotism.

In his annual address, Toqaev said he would suspend until 2028 a program gradually raising the retirement age for women from 58 to that of men, which is 63.

The statement appears to be a response to numerous protests by feminist activists in several major cities in recent weeks demanding the cancellation of the program.

Upcoming elections, the date of which has not yet been set, should strengthen Toqaev’s mandate as an independent leader, if he wins.

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich and tightly controlled former Soviet republic of some 19 million people, has never held a presidential election deemed free and fair by Western observers.

Rose D. Jones