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Kazakhstan Parliament: Players Change, Music Stays the Same

When Kazakhstan’s ruling party unveiled its candidate list for the March 20 snap parliamentary election, it seemed to be summoning the spirit of that old MGM slogan, “More stars than there are in heaven.”

Alas, with the results now in, the beautiful and the young have receded into the distance and the lower house of parliament, or Mazhilis, will have to contend with the same aging countenances as before.

Only one of the high-profile celebrity candidates who was on the party list of the ruling Nur Otan party will take up a seat in the new parliament, it emerged as parties revealed the names of their MPs on March 24, four days after a lackluster election featuring no genuine opposition.

Chat show host Artur Platonov is taking up a seat in parliament, but other popular figures on the Nur Otan list, such as world champion boxer Gennady Golovkin, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and pop singer Kairat Nurtas, will not be joining the ranks of MPs.

This suggests that criticism that Nur Otan’s list was a cynical bid to shore up voter support amid political apathy given the lack of opposition in an election taking place during a serious economic crisis may not have been groundless.

Nur Otan’s parliamentary representation features 33 MPs who were in the outgoing parliament, along with a host of party apparatchiks and former officials as well as a smattering of business people, according to a list published by Tengri News.

The election will install a parliament almost identical to the last one, with the vast majority of seats held by Nur Otan (now holding 84 instead of 83 seats) and the rest held by two pro-government parties: the pro-business Ak Zhol (with seven seats instead of eight) and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (known as the KNPK, with the same seven seats as last time).

Ak Zhol is sending three former MPs back to parliament, including leader Azat Peruashev, and the KNPK is sending four, including leader Zhambyl Akhmetbekov.

That means 40 percent of the new parliament is made up of deputies that sat in the last one, prompting outgoing MP Gulzhana Karagusova to remark at the meeting where the names were confirmed: “Everyone’s the same.”

Nine MPs are sent to the Mazhilis by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, an umbrella body of presidential appointees representing the country’s ethnic groups. On March 20, its delegates elected nine deputies. Delegates were given nine candidates from which to choose.

Gender equality was evidently not top of the list of political priorities in an election deemed by international observers to lack “genuine political choice” — 76 percent of the new cohort of MPs are male. The highest profile female candidate was Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and a former parliamentarian, currently deputy prime minister. Nazarbayeva will not be taking up a seat in parliament, however.

One of parliament’s first jobs will be to select a new government in a vote automatically triggered by the election, but anyone expecting to see fresh faces in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Karim Masimov is likely to be disappointed.

Nazarbayev — who, constitutional niceties notwithstanding, always has the last word on political matters — said on election day that he sees no need for change there.

Kazakhstan Parliament: Players Change, Music Stays the Same

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