Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament called for a snap election on January 13, setting the stage for a vexed vote against the backdrop of chronic economic uncertainty.
The early dissolution of the Mazhilis had been widely predicted as President Nursultan Nazarbayev seeks to refresh the mandate for his ruling Nur Otan party.
“The Mazhilis has fulfilled its historic mission, creating the legislative basis for the implementation of the Plan of the Nation,” Vladislav Kosarev of the pro-government Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan said in a statement read out in parliament and quoted by Kazinform news agency.
He was referring to a reform agenda unveiled by Nazarbayev last year that is intended to reverse an economic slowdown provoked in large part by the slump in the price for oil.
“Now that a new historic period is getting under way and the large-scale modernization of the country and practical implementation of presidential reforms in all areas are beginning, it is important that parties receive a new mandate of trust from voters,” Kosarev said.
Kosarev said that “broad social consolidation” was required to implement anti-crisis measures, since “only unity and coordinated actions will allow us to withstand fresh economic blows.”
The snap vote must be approved by Nazarbayev, which is expected to be a formality, and is expected in spring. Under the current schedule, the election had been due to take place in early 2017.
Despite talk of a fresh mandate, it is likely the authorities are also motivated by a desire to complete the electoral process ahead of time to head off any discontent provoked by the economic downturn.
Nazarbayev has been at pains to stress that Kazakhstan’s tribulations are caused by a general global economic crisis, thereby implying that continuity and experience should be favored over a refreshed leadership. He is only partly correct, however, as although key partner China is indeed experiencing a slowdown, much of the developed world is in fact going through a period of sustained growth.
The announcement of snap polls is customary for Kazakhstan, which has never held a parliamentary or presidential election on schedule.
The 75-year-old president has ruled Kazakhstan unchallenged for more than a quarter century and was re-elected last April in a poll in which he faced no genuine opposition candidates. He won 98 percent of the vote.
The outgoing parliament was elected in 2012. The monolithic Nur Otan party, which in effect performs a similar function to the Communist Party in Soviet times, won 81 percent of the vote.
Only two other parties, the nominally left-wing Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan and the pro-business Ak Zhol party, won enough votes to enter the legislature. Those parties are typically dubbed the “constructive opposition” and serve primarily to lend a veneer of democratic procedure to a rubber stamp parliament.
Kazakhstan has enjoyed a period as a one-party state. The election in 2007 ushered in Nur Otan alone after all other parties failed to pass the threshold required to win seats.
It is unlikely the incoming parliament will contain any genuine opposition deputies since there are no functioning opposition parties remaining in Kazakhstan, where they have been closed down or crumbled amid internal differences.
One opposition leader, Vladimir Kozlov, is in jail serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence on charges of fomenting unrest and seeking to overthrow the state.
In current political conditions, “whatever elections take place, the future parliament will be the same as the current one,” analyst Dosym Satpayev told TengriNews on January 11, ahead of the snap election announcement.