Kazakhstan is expected to hold early parliamentary elections in January next year after members of the lower house of parliament, the Majilis, asked President Nursultan Nazarbayev on November 10 to disband the chamber. Without a hint of irony, officials explain the motive behind the request, signed by 53 of the Majilis' 107 deputies, as being to enable the government to get the elections out of the way so it can focus on dealing with the next wave of the crisis.
The president has the right to dissolve the parliament after consultations with the speakers of both houses of parliament and the prime minister. After the parliament is dissolved, elections must be held within two months, meaning the parliamentary elections originally scheduled for August 2012 will now take place around eight months earlier.
Parliament member Nurtai Sabilyanov told journalists in Astana that the move was intended to get elections out of the way so that the government can focus on the economy. "Another wave of the global economic crisis is expected next year. Its scale is unpredictable. Therefore, it is important to complete the election cycle early to let the government and the parliament concentrate on anti-crisis measures," Sabilyanov told an Astana press conference.
"I am confident that our decision will be supported by our voters and the whole international community as we are governed by the best interests of the people and the state," Sabilyanov added.
The current crisis in the Eurozone has not yet had a significant effect on Kazakhstan's economy, although share prices have dropped as investors pull back from Kazakhstan and other emerging markets. However, if the global economy enters a second crisis, this is likely to bring down prices for Kazakhstan's main exports - oil, gas and metals. "We believe that Kazakhstan, as with many other countries, could face difficulties were the global economy to deteriorate markedly, notably if commodity prices came under sustained pressure," says a research note from Visor Capital. "Although the country has over $42bn available in the National Fund, any use of this would obviously require decisions of the political apparatus."
Kazakhstan also already brought forward presidential elections originally scheduled for December 2012 to April 2011. Nazarbayev was re-elected with 95.5% of the vote on a turnout of 89.9%, according to Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a highly critical report of the presidential elections, identifying numerous violations including ballot box stuffing, repeat voting and a high degree of pressure on the electorate to vote.
Kazakhstan's last parliamentary election, in August 2007, saw all the seats in the Majilis, with the exception of those allocated to the People's Assembly of Kazakhstan, won by the presidential Nur Otan party. However, it has since been decided in Astana that more than one party should be represented in the parliament. "In accordance with the law, the next Parliament, regardless of the outcome of the election, will be formed at least two political parties," Sabilyanov said in a statement published on the Parliament's website. "In this regard, we are implementing this democratic mechanism allowing you to create a multiparty parliament without delay. This step will represent Kazakhstan's commitment to the ideas of a multiparty system and political pluralism."
Predicting the result before the election had been called, presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev indicated on November 10 that the Ak Zhol ("shining path") party would be able to take some seats in the upcoming election. "Nur Otan will come first in the future elections, followed by Ak Zhol, as the party that has been the most active in recent months," Yertysbayev told Interfax-Kazakhstan. "Over half year it has welcomed 8,500 new members to become the second largest party in Kazakhstan with 180,000 members. It stands a good chance of passing the 7% election threshold or getting even more votes."
Among Kazakhstan's other main opposition parties, Alga! Kazakhstan has for more than a decade been trying unsuccessfully to register with the authorities. On October 4, an Almaty court banned the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, from any activities for the next six months because of its leader Ghaziz Aldamzharov's involvement with the Popular Front movement in support of striking oilworkers in west Kazakhstan. This will effectively bar the party from taking part in the elections.
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