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16 сентября 2022
Paolo Sorbello, photo: Konrad Lembcke (Flickr)

The Week in Kazakhstan: State Visits and Constitutional Changes

The capital's name swings back to Astana, just like Kcell shares swing back into the government's pocket

The Week in Kazakhstan: State Visits and Constitutional Changes

Two major official visits and one diplomatic trip kept President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev busy this week. First, Pope Francis flew to the capital on September 14 to attend the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. He also had several meetings with Tokayev, mostly memorable because during one of them Francis received a traditional string instrument, the dombra, as a gift.

China’s President Xi Jinping visited the capital on September 15, in his first trip abroad since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and met with Tokayev. At the meeting, Xi repeated that China supports Kazakhstan’s “independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” - a mantra that is often heard at the meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The following day, both presidents flew to Uzbekistan for a head of state meeting of the SCO in Samarkand, where they shook hands with their colleagues from other member states, such as India, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and several other dignitaries from observer countries.

Internal affairs were also momentous, as a rapid exchange of proposals between parliamentary groups and Tokayev led to the passing at the first reading of amendments to the Constitution on September 16. Tokayev is expected to sign the bill upon his return from Samarkand.

One of the major amendments was the change in the duration and number of presidential terms. From now, a president could only serve for one seven-year term. Another, quite populist measure that passed among the amendments was the renaming of the capital city from Nur-Sultan back to its previous name, Astana. While most were jubilant about the renaming, some commentators pointed out that the toponym Astana had been chosen, without any public consultation, by former President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1997.

Sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna announced on September 16 it would buy out the shares that the Jusan Bank group owns in Kcell, one of the country’s largest mobile operators. Jusan Bank and Pioneer Technologies, a Luxembourg-registered company linked to the Jusan group, had bought a 24% stake in Kcell just a year ago, in a controversial deal that was marred by alleged share price manipulation before it was closed.