( RIA Novosti ) - Kazakhstan's parliament approved constitutional amendments Friday cancelling restrictions on the number of consecutive presidential terms for the oil-rich Central Asian state's incumbent leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
"Given the first Kazakh president's historical role, we have decided to approve lawmakers' proposals to lift restrictions on the number of [consecutive] presidential terms for him," said Yermek Zhumbayev, head of a parliamentary commission on constitutional amendments, adding that the law would only be valid for Nazarbayev, not for future presidents.
Simultaneously the legislature, dominated by pro-presidential parties, approved in a second and final reading, Nazarbayev-proposed amendments to the constitution cutting the presidential term from seven to five years after 2012, just after Nazarbayev's term ends.
"We want to emphasize our commitment to democracy," the 66-year-old president of the former Soviet republic said earlier. During his time in office, the country has posted high economic growth and relative stability stemming from vast oil and gas revenue. GDP grew 10.6% last year and 9.4% in 2005.
Nazarbayev, who has ruled the country for 18 years, also proposed a series of constitutional amendments which he said were designed to transform the country from a presidential republic into a presidential-parliamentary one by giving more power to the legislature and political parties.
The president enlarged the parliament from 116 to 154 members and introduced a party list voting system to the lower chamber, the Majlis. The president can now also dissolve parliament after consulting the premier and speakers. And the upper chamber is now authorized to replace the Majlis in the event of its dismissal.
The opposition say the party list voting system would facilitate control over elections and prevent independent lawmakers from being elected to parliament. They also say the initiatives were designed to improve the country's image on the international arena given its aspirations to preside in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but will only help Nazarbayev tighten his grip on power.
A senior Kazakh member of parliament said Friday the move to lift term restrictions for Nazarbayev would promote democratic processes in the Central Asian state.
"Democratic institutions have not taken deep root here yet, political parties have not grown mature enough - we need time," said Serik Abdrakhmanov, head of the international affairs, defense and security committee at the Majlis.