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Kazakh leader promises change after winning referendum

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Monday that he would follow through on his plans to push...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English - Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Monday that he would follow through on his plans to push through democratic reforms in Kazakhstan. This came after a clear majority of voters in a referendum approved the constitutional changes he had proposed.

The Central Election Commission said that 77.18 percent of Sunday's votes were in favor of the changes, which decentralize decision-making in the oil-rich country and take away the title of "national leader" from the former strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev. There were 68,06% of people there.

Tokayev said in a speech on Monday, "We have shown that we are working together to build a new, fair Kazakhstan."

"We need to look at the laws that let a small group of people control most of the country's economic resources and give them special treatment."

Western investors have put hundreds of billions of dollars into the Central Asian country's energy and mining industries because of its political stability. However, in January, deadly civil unrest broke out in the country, and security officials tried to take over.

Analysts said that the referendum was partly a response to these upheavals, which began as a protest against a rise in fuel prices but grew into a broad show of discontent by citizens who have been getting louder about wanting to change an elitist political system.

Dosym Satpayev, a political analyst, said before the vote, "Tokayev knows this, and that's why, in some ways, he tries to use this referendum to position himself as a man who wants to change something."

Tokayev proposed the reforms after putting down the coup attempt and removing former patron Nazarbayev and his group from important public sector jobs. He also called for higher taxes on the extractive industries and on high-income people.

After being president for 30 years, Nazarbayev gave up the job in 2019 and chose Tokayev to take over.

Tokayev, a 69-year-old diplomat, will also need domestic support to deal with the Ukrainian crisis, which has thrown Kazakhstan's economy into chaos and put it in a tough political position.

Many Kazakhs have been happy with Tokayev's rise to power, but some have criticized his decision to ask a security bloc led by Russia for help to stop the unrest in January. In the eyes of many, this put the Kazakh government in Russia's debt just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Kazakhstan has been hurt by the sanctions that the West has put on Russia. Its tenge currency dropped almost as much as the rouble did in March before recovering, and logistics have become much harder for Kazakh companies doing business with European counterparts.

Tokayev hasn't said much about the crisis in Ukraine, but he has asked all sides to follow the rules in the U.N. charter.

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