ALMATY Kazakhstan's veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev gave the green light on Wednesday for constitutional reforms that could dilute the sweeping powers he has amassed as president and force his eventual successor to share power with other institutions.
Kazakhstan, an exporter of oil and metals, is the only former Soviet republic that is still run by its communist-era leader. Now aged 76, Nazarbayev has so far not identified a clear successor and investors fear what may come after him.
His office said in a brief statement that Nazarbayev had set up a working group tasked with drafting legal reforms to redistribute powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
The group includes members of the cabinet, parliament, Supreme Court and other bodies, it said, without elaborating.
Nazarbayev has governed the vast Central Asian state of 18 million people with a firm hand since 1989, first as regional Communist Party chief and then, after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the president of a newly independent nation.
The decision to revise the constitution follows the death last September of Islam Karimov, president of neighbouring Uzbekistan who had also been in power since 1989.
Among the people viewed as potential successors to Nazarbayev are his eldest daughter Dariga, who is a parliamentary deputy, Deputy Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagambetov and Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, speaker of the Senate.
Under the Kazakh constitution, Tokayev would automatically assume the presidency in the event of Nazarbayev's death pending fresh elections.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)