Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Kazakhstan: Parliament to dissolve for early elections

A shake-up of Kazakhstan's moribund political landscape looks to be in the offing. On 10th November, 53 of the 107 members of the lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis – in which President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Nur Otan holds all the seats – sent a formal request to the president to dissolve the legislature and hold early elections.

A parliamentary poll was already scheduled for next August, but that date has now been moved forward to January, according to presidential aides. Officials have said that the date has been moved so that Kazakhstan can focus attention on the economic crisis rather than elections – a fairly thin reason given the lack of real campaigning and competition in Kazakh elections.

It is also being presented as a way for Kazakhstan to develop – at least cosmetically – a multi-party democracy and move away from Nur Otan's total monopoly of parliamentary seats. Under last year's revised election law, the party that comes second automatically enters the Mazhilis, even if it fails to pass the 7 per cent threshold. This would almost certainly mean that Ak Zhol, the pro-business party derided by hardcore opponents of the government as a pseudoopposition, would enter the legislature to provide a superficial dose of debate and competition with Nur Otan.

Presidential officials have actively supported this idea. In the summer, key Nazarbaev aide Yermukhamet Yertysbaev said that he hopes Ak Zhol will become “a worthy sparring partner” for Nur Otan. Ak Zhol's newish leader, Azat Peruashev, was a Nur Otan member until the day before he became opposition leader in July.

There is speculation that the shake-up of parliament is also intended to open up a space for Timur Kulibaev, Nazarbaev's son in law and the closest thing to an heir apparent. Kulibaev has been linked with Ak Zhol, partly through his association with Peruashev. This would allow him to keep a firm hand on the 'opposition' party while maintaining a position of dominance in Nur Otan.

It would also give him an opportunity to inherit a (nominally) multi-party system. Combined with his profile as a fairly youthful technocrat, this would help Kulibaev to present a more modern and democratic face of Kazakhstan. The absence of a clear succession plan is concerning investors, and leading to pressure on Nazarbaev for a clear signal. “No one likes surprises – not least the capital markets,” says one oil executive working in the country.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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