Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed into law constitutional amendments allowing him to stay in office, indefinitely. From Moscow, VOA's Lisa McAdams has more on the move, which the political opposition denounces as undemocratic.
In signing the amendments into law, Mr. Nazarbayev - who has led Kazakhstan since 1991 - secured his already-firm grip on power. The new legislation allows him to run again in 2012, if he so chooses, and to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms.
His eventual successors are not afforded the same right, but are barred from serving more than two consecutive terms - as Nazarbayev had been until this law was pushed through.
Government supporters say the law will ensure continued stability in the oil-rich nation. But, Kazakhstan's fragmented political opposition immediately denounced the move as undemocratic.
The director of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow, Yevgeni Volk, agrees. He says the new law cements a long-standing trend toward authoritarian rule under Mr. Nazarbayev and across Central Asia.
"Nazarbayev is following the path taken by many other leaders in Central Asia who really like power," said Volk. "They don't want to leave their office. They understand it really means not just their personal wealth, but their personal security. No one can really be guaranteed that in case of a change of power, they will be personally safe."
The set of reforms also strengthened parliament's powers, including giving lawmakers a greater say in picking the prime minister, but Volk doubts that will be enough to ease concerns in Europe and the West over Kazakhstan's democratic record.
Mr. Nazarbayev's rule has been marred by flawed elections and the slaying of two vocal opponents of the government.
Volk notes that the concerns, even before Tuesday's amendments were signed into law, threaten to derail Kazakhstan's bid to assume the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe in 2009.
"I believe that in this sense, Kazakhstan will not be a good example for other OSCE nations and to a great extent it will try to silence calls for democracy, individual freedoms, for human rights protection," said Volk. "And, in fact, I believe it will certainly limit the OSCE performance and its results [if approved]."
President Nazarbayev has said the reforms were undertaken to make Kazakhstan more democratic.