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Kazakhstan: Constitutional Amendment and Early Presidential Elections

(Feb. 9, 2011) On January 31, 2011, the Constitutional Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan recognized as unconstitutional the amendment to the country's Constitution under which the term of office of the current president could be extended until 2020 by a popular referendum, without elections. (See Peter Roudik, Kazakhstan – Parliament Supports Extension of President's Term of Office, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 6, 2011), The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had refused to sign this amendment into law, and on January 17, 2011, he had submitted the bill to the Constitutional Council for review of its constitutionality. (Nazarbaev Declared Early Presidential Elections in Kazakhstan [in Russian], NEWSRU.COM (Jan. 31, 2011),

The Constitutional Council justified its decision by referring to the fact that the language of the proposed amendment is not definitive, as it did not specify for how long and for how many times the presidential term of office can be extended. (Aleksander Artemyev, Nazarbaev Goes to the Polls [in Russian],GAZETA.RU (Jan. 31, 2011), However, this decision was not final, and the Council recommended that the President decide on the issue. According to the Kazakh Constitution, the Constitutional Council's rulings rely on the President's opinion. The recent decision of the Constitutional Council was hailed by the President of Kazakhstan, who said that in order to “unite the nation and secure democratic development of his country,” he has decided to conduct early presidential elections on April 3, 2011, almost two years before the expiration of his term. If he wins, as is expected he will remain in power for the next five years. (Nikolai Troitskii, Respectful Choice of Nursultan Nazarbaev [in Russian], RUSSIAN INFORMATION AGENCY NOVOSTI (Feb. 4, 2011),

Some analysts believe that in a country where nothing is done without the President's involvement, the swaying back and forth on this issue was designed to suppress the Parliament, which has became more politically active recently. Others see the influence of the foreign policy factor, i.e., the negative reaction of Western leaders to the referendum idea and the growing revolutionary rhetoric in the Arab world. (Artemyev, supra.) It appears that the early election plan will “buy time for Mr. Nazarbayev to choose a successor” and respond to concerns of the political elite and foreign investors. (Neil Buckley, Kazakh Leader Changes Tack and Calls Poll, FINANCIAL TIMES (Feb. 1, 2011), at 3,