The race for second place in Kazakh election

By bne IntelliNews March 31, 2011

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Patriots Party leader Gani Kasymov is standing against Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev for the second time. A colourful character sometimes known as "Kazakhstan's Zhirinovsky", Kasymov has made a career out of being outspoken, without seriously challenging Nazarbayev's primacy in Kazakhstan.

Back in 1999, Kasymov got 4.7% of the vote and his forecast that the 2011 ballot will be close enough to require a second round doesn't ring true, but he may manage to scoop the largest share of votes that aren't cast for Nazarbayev. A respectable showing in the presidential elections would increase the chances that his party could be able to take some seats in the next parliamentary elections due in 2012, he tells bne.

According to local journalists, Kasymov has been the most active of the three opposition candidates, always campaigning in his trademark dark glasses. The senator is still notorious for throwing a vase of flowers at an interviewer on a late night television show back in 1998. The question of whether the incident was staged has never been resolved.

In the run-up to the April 3 elections, Kasymov has enlivened a largely torpid campaign. One of the main components of his platform is the need to modernise Kazakhstan's government institutions. He proposes the creation of the post of vice president, and a move towards a presidential-parliamentary system. Gender policy is another key element of his programme, and Kasymov has called for 30% of parliament seats to allocated to women, and for the retirement age for women to be brought down to 55.

While rival candidate Mels Elesiev of the Tabagat environmental movement is standing on a single-issue platform, Kasymov has also taken a stance on environmental issues, calling for TengizChevroil's operations at the Tengiz and Korolevskoye oilfields to be shut down until the problem of pollution can be solved. "We have big problems with waste products causing pollution of the air, the environment and on the Caspian shelf. We need to find a way to deal with sulphur. I do not agree with the current policy of simply levying fines for pollution, as this does not solve the problem," he says.

But despite his outspoken stance, Kasymov remains a Nazarbayev-appointee to the Senate. He joined the race at the last minute - on February 20, the day after nominations process closed - fuelling speculation that he was asked to run because Nazarbayev needed a credible opponent to make the election look more believable.

Talking to bne, his strictest criticism of the current government is reserved for disparities in income. "The prime minister earns around KZT600,000 or 700,000 [$4,000-5,000] a month, while a hospital nurse receives KZT23,000. Then the government says everything is okay in our country. I don't agree."

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