bne IntelliNews -
Kazakhstan looks to be heading for an early presidential election after the Assembly of Kazakhstan's People - a forum for the country's minorities appointed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev - suggested that parliament initiate the process. Such an appeal in Kazakhstan's authoritarian political system could not be made without authorisation by the incumbent and is a clear sign that the ruling elite is heading towards a snap presidential election.
On February 16, the first deputy chairman of President Nazarbayev's ruling Nur Otan party, Bayyrzhan Baybek, said that his party "fully" supports the assembly's initiative. He explained that the incumbent's re-election would enable the government to manage the current economic crisis by pursuing the president's new economic policy, which was announced in November.
Bringing forward the presidential election will avoid an overlap with the parliamentary election (which is also scheduled to take place in 2016). The Kazakh president also traditionally calls an early election in order to prevent increasing speculation among the ruling elite about his successor.
Kazakhstan is currently facing serious economic challenges. The National Bank of Kazakhstan recently pledged that there would be no devaluation of the national currency so long as the oil price is above $50 per barrel. This policy will lead to a constant drain of foreign reserves and a devaluation of the tenge seems to be unavoidable in the longer run. Bringing forward the election will give the president a vote of confidence at a time when the ruling elite is afraid that the growing deterioration of society's mood could undermine support for Nazarbayev.
The other key reason for early elections is the complicated international situation Kazakhstan is facing. Astana is under political pressure from Russia and despite Nazarbayev's efforts to play a mediating role in the Ukrainian crisis, Kazakhstan is clearly marginalised. The recent summit on the Ukrainian crisis took place in Minsk instead of Astana, although reportedly it was Nazarbayev who pushed France to seek a dialogue with Russia.
The Kazakh elite is also extremely afraid of any signs of internal destabilisation; therefore an information blockade was immediately imposed after ethnic clashes in the southern part of Kazakhstan. Although it cannot be officially admitted, Astana is afraid that any sign of internal weakness can be used by Moscow to impose greater political pressure on Kazakhstan. The presidential election will serve as a vote of confidence in the president's policy during this difficult political and economic period.
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