Kazakhstan parliament votes to scrap presidential poll

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (file image from 2009) Mr Nazarbayev has led the country since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991

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Kazakhstan's parliament has backed a plan to scrap the next two presidential elections, allowing Nursultan Nazarbayev to stay in power until 2020.

Parliament, made up entirely of members of his party, said the proposal would go to a referendum.

Mr Nazarbayev has led Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Analysts say he will have no difficulty securing victory in a referendum, which could be held as soon as March.

Speaking during the debate in parliament, one deputy, Vladimir Nekhoroshev, said he was sure Kazakhs would approve the changes.

"I am absolutely sure that our wise people will have absolute trust in the first president, the leader of nation, which means stability in the society and the well-being of every Kazakh citizen," he said.

Although there are no opposition deputies in the parliament itself, they have denounced the referendum as an attempt to avoid a competitive election.

Mr Nazarbayev, a former steelworker, rose to become a member of the governing politburo when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and was then elected president of the independent Kazakhstan.

His supporters say he has ensured stability and successfully channelled the country's oil wealth into rapid growth.

But critics accuse him of stifling any opposition, rigging elections, and concentrating power in the hands of his family.

One of his daughters has a tight grip on the media, while his son-in-law runs many of the state energy companies, and is reportedly a billionaire.

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