Kazakhstan: The Scent of Elections

As 2012 fast approaches, it is not the smell of Mayan doomsday, but electioneering, that is once again taking hold of Kazakhstan. 

On one side, the government is mobilizing for an orderly political season by dripping out a few sweeteners aimed at fostering public confidence in the status quo.

Prime Minister Karim Masimov announced on Twitter (where else?) on June 30 that salaries for public sector employees will be hiked by 30 percent starting from July. This follows a trend of similarly generous pay rises over the past couple of years.

In another gesture aimed at containing gas and food prices, the government is also extending its ban on fuel exports to next year.

Similar woolly welfare pronouncements should be expected on a fairly regular basis as we head toward 2012, when parliamentary elections are expected.

The main problem undermining Kazakhstan's nominally democratic parliamentary system is that only one party is currently represented in the lower house: President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan, whose monolithic presence on Kazakhstan's political scene is ever reminiscent of the Soviet-era Communist Party.

Nazarbayev's garrulous sidekick, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, has been noisily insisting on the need to turn the Ata-Meken entrepreneurs union into an “opposition” party and have it occupy parliament. 

Ata-Meken has thus far failed to oblige, but news that Azat Peruashev, the chairman of the union, has withdrawn his membership in Nur Otan may presage movement on this front. Meanwhile, in comments to Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency, Peruashev cryptically failed to rule out that he might join the faux-opposition Ak-Zhol party.

The perennially hapless opposition is also trying its best to look useful, although its chances of entering parliament are fairly nonexistent.

Radio Free Europe reports that a number of parties, including the Communist Party and the unregistered Alga party led by Vladimir Kozlov, along with a group of NGOs, intend to form a Popular Front movement that will take part in the elections.

Alga's most recent engagement on the electoral front was a boycott of this year's early presidential elections. Even though the official turnout figure of 90 percent was widely perceived as being the outcome of some concerted fiddling, Alga's efforts were nonetheless notably lackluster.

Meanwhile, the even-more militant opposition is licking its chops at the prospect of what it hopes will be a nationwide-wave of industrial strikes inspired by the extended protest that has severely dented state energy producer Kazmunaigaz's operations in the southwestern Mangistau region. 

For a change, this election season may actually be interesting.

Kazakhstan: The Scent of Elections

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