Kazakhstan’s Strongman Announces (Re)Election Date
Kazakhstan’s long-serving president has confirmed widespread expectations that the country will go to the polls in a snap election, setting the date for April 26.
Incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev, 74, did not confirm he will stand in the poll. But in an address to the nation late on February 25 he dropped strong hints that he will, stressing the need for “stability” and “continuation.”
“First, all the appeals to me [to hold a snap election] reflect nationwide alarm that no internal discord or external conflicts should affect our country,” Nazarbayev said. “People understand that for this it is necessary to boost stability and the unity of our society.”
Secondly, he added, amid a “global economic crisis, the people need confidence in tomorrow. This means above all assuring jobs, and stability in social payments, salaries, and grants.”
Nazarbayev invoked “global geopolitical contradictions,” in an indirect reference to tensions in the post-Soviet region over the conflict in Ukraine. This means that “our citizens are concerned about the question of assuring national security,” he said. “Kazakhstanis are, therefore, coming out in favor of the further continuation of a balanced domestic and foreign policy.”
Nazarbayev’s words strongly suggest that he has every intention of staying in power for another term, since a change of leader in Kazakhstan, which has had the same president for a quarter of a century, would undoubtedly bring political upheaval in its wake.
Moves to call a snap election surfaced on February 14, when the pro-presidential Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, an umbrella organization representing the interests of Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups and consisting of presidential appointees, called for Nazarbayev to be given a fresh mandate to push through economic stimulus measures and deal with geopolitical tensions related to Ukraine.
The initiative – which is being presented as a grassroots movement, but is widely believed to have been orchestrated by the presidential administration – quickly snowballed. State media have been crammed with reports of people from all walks of life – from celebrities to factory workers – clamoring for Nazarbayev to agree to a snap election in which he will run again.
Nazarbayev, who goes by the title of Leader of the Nation, has the right to stand for president for life, under legal provisions exempting him from term limits. He was last elected with a dizzying 95.6% of the vote in a snap election in April 2011, and his current term runs until December 2016 (since under the constitution presidential terms always end in December of the year they expire).
If he is re-elected, Nazarbayev would be 80 if he serves his full five-year term, which would end in December 2020.