Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed a decree to dissolve parliament and to hold snap elections on March 20 as the country's economic outlook worsens.
The decision came just a week after parliament, dominated by the pro-presidential Nur Otan and other parties, asked the president for dissolution. Scheduled elections to local legislative bodies will be held alongside the parliamentary poll in order to save money.
Statements made by officials and experts close to the government suggested that a new parliament, although still controlled by the president, might become more pluralistic and mildly more critical towards the government, though still firmly under Nazarbayev's sway.
The election is also likely to serve as a good excuse for changes in the government as the law requires the government to resign when parliament ends its term. While Karim Massimov, the longserving prime minister, may retain his job, the current energy minister and political heavyweight, Vladimir Shkolnik, will turn 67 in February, which according to the new law on civil service requires him to retire.
On January 19, Massimov relieved First Deputy Energy Minister Uzakbai Karabalin of his post as he had "reached the retirement age". Earlier Nazarbayev sacked his loyal lieutenant Nurtay Abykayev as chairman of the powerful National Security Committee with the same explanation. At the same time, Nazarbayev, who turned 75 last July, seems not to be affected by the retirement age requirements.
The election has been prompted by the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in Kazakhstan, which is suffering from low oil and other commodity prices and sluggish demand for its exports – mainly oil and metals. Nazarbayev – who called a snap presidential election last April in which he secured another five-year term with 98% of the vote – urged the population to “live within our means, save resources, save jobs”. He also noted that people should unite and fight back, including legislatively, against "possible provocations in these complicated times".
Nazarbayev, who claimed credit for economic growth when the oil price hovered above $100 per barrel, absolved himself of responsibility for the current crisis, despite failing to carry out political and economic reforms when the government was flush with money.
Instead he blamed external economic factors for the current economic crisis in Kazakhstan. “Those who will try politicise and look for those guilty of the worsening of the situation [should also be rebuffed] as this is a global process which no country, including Kazakhstan, could influence,” Nazarbayev remarked as he announced the early parliamentary poll.
The president, who is growing increasingly intolerant of dissent, has craftily timed the early parliamentary poll for when the country is politically sluggish during Kazakhstan’s freezing winter and voters’ mood will be distracted by official and unofficial holidays – Valentine’s Day and the newly-created Day of Thanking on March 1 and bank holidays for Women’s Day on March 8 and Nowruz on March 21-23.