ASTANA – At its Feb. 14 meeting, the council of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK) called for an early presidential election in Kazakhstan.
The council members, representing more than 800 ethnic associations throughout the country, explained their action by citing “numerous appeals of citizens,” a need to give the President “a new mandate” to implement his economic stimulus programmes against the adverse external environmentas well as the constitutional requirement to hold separate presidential and parliamentary elections, which, after various legislative changes adopted in previous years, could end up scheduled in quick succession at the end of 2016..
The council of the APK, after the meeting at the Palace of Peace and Harmony, called on the APK parliamentary group in the Mazhilis (lower chamber of Kazakhstan’s Parliament) to take on and issue the initiative of holding the presidential election earlier. Nine out of the 107 members of the Mazhilis are elected from the APK, according to national law.
The previous presidential election took place in April 2011, resulting in the victory of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and only leader since independence in 1991, who won a new five-year term with 95.55 percent of the vote. Three other contenders picked up the rest of the vote. Following previous constitutional amendments, the presidential term of office was slashed from seven to five years.
By law, regular presidential elections are to take place every five years on the first Sunday of December. The 2011 vote was itself an early presidential vote, prompted by calls by more than 5 million people in Kazakhstan to hold a referendum extending the powers of President Nazarbayev indefinitely. Instead, he opted for the early vote, announced on Feb. 2, 2011, and held on April 3, 2011.
According to the constitutional law, “On Elections,” his assumption of office through the early presidential election meant the next regular presidential election would take place “five years after the earlier presidential election, on the first Sunday of December.” That meant Dec. 4, 2016.
Separately, parliamentary elections took place on Jan. 15, 2012, resulting in the victory of the Nur Otan presidential party and giving minority shares of seats to two political parties, Ak Zhol and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, as well as nine seats for APK representatives from various ethnic groups. Given the term of Mazhilis deputies of five years, and given the fact that the next election is due to take place no later than two months prior to the expiration of the deputies’ current mandate, that meant, the next election for the directly elected chamber would take place no later than November 18, 2016.
“Numerous appeals of citizens have been coming to the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan from all regions of the country with an initiative to hold an early presidential election in the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the APK council said in its Feb. 14 address. “The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan considers it its civic duty to express its position on this fateful question.”
“In the context of growing global economic crisis and complex international agenda, [this] nation-wide initiative for holding the election is a requirement of time,” the council said. “It is necessary to give President Nursultan Nazarbayev a new mandate of national trust to successfully steer the country in this period of global trials.”
President Nazarbayev has enjoyed overwhelming popularity throughout his more than two decades in power. During the presidential election campaign in February 2011, an opinion research poll commissioned by the Washington-based International Republican Institute and conducted by independent pollster Gallup put his support in the country at 90 percent.
In the years since, the country has seen economic growth of 4 – 6 percent annually on average, markedly slower growth rates compared to the early 2000s, before the global financial crisis hit Kazakhstan in 2007 – 2009.
In recent months, Kazakhstan, a net oil exporter, has been affected by the twin forces of tumbling oil prices, which have fallen from around $120 per barrel of Brent crude in June 2014 to $50 – $60 per barrel currently, and economic woes in neighbouring Russia, itself hit by lower oil prices and the sanctions levied by the West over the conflict in Ukraine.
Kazakhstan’s growth forecast for this year has been slashed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) from 5.1 percent to 1.5 percent. The EBRD had far gloomier predictions for the economies of Russia, Belarus and Armenia, which are Kazakhstan’s partners in the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), with Russia predicted to contract by 4.8 percent and Belarus by 1.5 percent, and Armenia expected to stagnate at 0.0 percent.
“In a new and difficult stage of global imbalances, Elbasy (Leader of the Nation) Nursultan Nazarbayev needs to be given trust so that the country stays true to its strategic course and continues on its way to large-scale modernisation and advancement towards the 30 most developed countries in the world,” the council said, referring to the goal set in presidential state-of-the-nation addresses over the past two years.
“Moreover, the new mandate of trust in the Leader of the Nation will unite and rally people at this new stage of world development, allowing them to focus all their efforts on the most important issues of national development,” the APK council argued.
“Today, our country must combine all its resources to implement the Nurly Zhol – Path to the Future new economic programme and the long-term Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy,” the members of the council said, calling the consolidation of the current policies of the head of state “the guarantee of further development of the country and the well-being of its citizens.”
“It is important, through the early presidential election, to strengthen economic growth, to ensure continuity of policy. In fact, there is no alternative to this initiative,” the address stressed.
The APK council members also contended that since 2016 was to see both presidential and parliamentary elections, “in order to ensure strict compliance with the Constitution, it is expedient to hold them at different times.”
In a briefing at the Central Communications Service held on the same day, the nine members of the Mazhilis from the APK including a Chechen, a German, a Kazakh, a Korean, a Tatar, a Russian, a Uighur, an Uzbek and a Ukrainian, professed their firm support for the initiative and outlined various additional reasons for why the early presidential election is warranted.
Rozakul Khalmuravov, one of these members of the Mazhilis, said in remarks televised by Khabar TV that the election will help put to rest speculation in political circles as to who the eventual successor to Nursultan Nazarbayev might be. He, of course, meant that President Nazarbayev would be widely expected to win the next election.
Egor Kappel, another member of the Mazhilis from APK, said in their travels throughout the country he and his colleagues were constantly asked by voters about the best ways to protect the country against externally-induced economic hardships and one of the proposals they heard was to do away with a year-long presidential election campaign.
In an interview with Khabar TV on Feb. 14, Olzhas Suleimenov, Kazakhstan’s most famous modern poet and public figure, called the proposal of the APK “a very right and needed decision now which will preserve not only the economic, but also the political status.”
“In these difficult times, the leader bears special responsibility. It is then important to support Nursultan Nazarbayev now,” he said. “Kazakhstan needs to go through several very tough years. We will [thus] preserve the country, preserve the people, and develop [them]. I am confident our people will support this proposal.”
Under constitutional law, an early presidential election is set by the decision of the acting president and is to be held within two months of such a decision.