Pre-Election Debates Gear Up One Week until Parliamentary Election in Kazakhstan

ASTANA – In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan on March 19, the country’s seven political parties are engaging in a series of pre-election debates to showcase their policies and ideas to the public, with the latest airing on KTK TV channel on March 10.

Candidates during the live debates. Photo credit: Screenshot from live translation.

All seven political parties in Kazakhstan eyeing seats in the Mazhilis sent their representatives to the debates. Aidos Sarym represented the Amanat party, Daniya Yespayeva – the Aq Jol Democratic Party, Zhiguli Dairabayev – the Auyl party, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev – the People’s Party of Kazakhstan, Ainur Sabitova – Baytaq party, Dinara Shukizhanova – the Respublica party, and Askhat Rakhimzhanov –  the National Social Democratic Party.

Two of them, Yespayeva and Dairabayev, are former presidential candidates who ran in the 2019 and 2022 presidential elections, respectively.

In a two-hour debate, the first round posed a question of how each party will improve the lives of ordinary people. Sarym was the first to voice his party’s proposals, saying its electoral program was “together with the people” and knows the “real problems of the people.”

“Only we can solve them. We will bring order to the country and ensure social justice. We will achieve the return of illegally withdrawn capital. We will strengthen the fight against corruption, oligopolies, and tycoons,” said Sarym.

The party also promises to adopt a new Social Code, including increasing pensions and reducing the retirement age for workers in hazardous jobs.

Sarym continued outlining the party’s targets. “We will increase social aid by 1.5 times for almost two million citizens. We will build schools for more than one million students. We will build housing for 730,000 families. We will open hundreds of enterprises in the economy, which will annually generate more than 40,000 high-quality jobs. We will provide stable jobs for 1.5 million young citizens,” he added.

Zhiguli Dairabayev, in his remarks, promised the party would create the first Agricultural Bank and exempt citizens working in agriculture from loan burden in a broader effort to turn the country into an “industrial and agrarian power.”

“The party intends to conduct an audit of the agrarian sector and the countryside. We will pass a law on food security. We need reforms worthy of an industrial and agrarian country. We will free all agricultural producers from the burden of credits at the expense of the state budget,” said Dairabayev.

According to him, agricultural producers should also be exempt from taxes.

Dinara Shukizhanova, co-chairwoman of the Respublica party, emphasized the need for a more effective budget in the country. Without that, there will be no money to implement reforms.

“The revenues of Kazakhstan in 2023 should reach 17 trillion tenge (US$37.9 billion), and the expenditures will be at 21 trillion tenge ($46.8 billion). In 2023, the state budget will be in a deficit of four trillion tenge ($8.9 billion). If the state were a business, the company would be bankrupt. I speak from the position of a business,” she said.

The Respublica party, she noted, is a party of business people working in the real sector of the economy.

“For the past ten years, we survived pandemic, devaluation, and sanctions, and we continue working every day in the real economy. We want to say we are tired of waiting for them to put things in order. Today we want to come and offer a different approach. We are about the economy, about the fact that Kazakhstan’s economy should become profitable. Then you can send any finances, any funds for the development of health care, education, and other areas,” she said. The state should stop relying on oil resources, which, she noted, will be gone in 30 years.

When asked by Sarym why the party’s program lacks measures for socially vulnerable groups, Shukizhanova explained the party is relatively young.

“We are traveling in regions, meeting people, and understanding the problems in the regions and among the different electorates. The program is a living document,” she added.

Yertysbayev from the People’s Party began his 100-second speech saying he did not come to argue but to exchange ideas. He then turned to the idea of socialism, which lies at the heart of the party.

“What kind of socialism? Scandinavian socialism, for example. In Norway, just half a century ago, giant oil and gas reserves were discovered in the North Sea. Currently, each Norwegian has, on average, 238,000 euros in a special account. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If millions of people support the party on March 19, the idea will become a material force,” said Yertysbayev, who later proposed Baytaq and Auyl unite with his party.

Ainur Sabitova from the Baytaq party, which positions itself as the country’s first green party, said the party believes no economy is possible without healthy, smart, and educated young people with zero tolerance for corruption.

“I want to say that a healthy life means a healthy economy. We want to say that the country needs clean energy and clean industry. We are not fighting for power, we are fighting for a just Kazakhstan. Every day, we defend the rights of our citizens and ordinary people, and this must be understood. If we get into the Parliament, the Baytaq party will conduct an audit and an independent study of the environmental damage caused by the industrial complex to the health of our people. This is what we are fighting for, and it will become a reality,” added Sabitova.

Daniya Yespayeva from the Aq Jol party was the next to present her party’s program, which seeks to “reduce poverty, breach the gap between the rich and the poor, and demonopolize the economy.”

“We know how to overcome poverty. To do so, we must create opportunities for mass entrepreneurship. The Aq Jol party demands that small businesses be exempted from reporting and given the opportunity to work for a patent, increasing their turnover to 100 million tenge ($222,849). This opportunity alone will increase the number of jobs by thousands, which no employment program has done. We demand to revise our contracts with foreign subsoil users and to increase Kazakhstan’s share in their profit distribution,” said Yespayeva.

The party advocates for a housing program in rural areas and social housing for young people.

Putting an end to an oligarchic economy was the key message of the National Social Democratic Party voiced by its Chairman Askhat Rakhimzhanov.

“It is necessary to stop the process when the few get rich, and the millions become poor. What does the National Social Democratic Party propose? First of all, we need to bring back all the money that is in offshore accounts. This is necessary for further reforms,” said Rakhimzhanov.

He emphasized the need for unbundling big enterprises, gradually nationalizing the extraction industry, introducing progressive taxation and lowering interest rates for consumer loans and mortgages.

“Parliament should also be open. Alternative opinions should be voiced openly. The parties that were in the last convocation have already proved their professional ineptitude. They do not defend the interests of ordinary citizens. The situation in the country is deteriorating for the most part. Prices are unreasonably and uncontrollably rising,” he added.

Based on an opinion poll that began at the beginning of debates offering the viewers to vote for the chosen party by a QR code, 80.7 percent of people said they would vote on March 19.  Announcing the results of the poll, the Public Opinion research institute, one of five institutions accredited by the Central Election Commission to conduct public opinion polls, said 59 percent voted for the Amanat party, 15 percent for the Respublica party, 8.5 percent –  Aq Jol, 4.7 percent – National Social Democratic Party. 4.4 percent – Auyl, 2.9 percent – People’s Party, and 2.4 percent – Baytaq.

In another opinion poll conducted by the Strategy Center for Social and Political Studies, 43.6 percent of those who are planning to cast their ballot intend to vote for the Amanat party.

Some 11.3 percent of the respondents support the Aq Jol party, and 9.9 percent favor the Auyl party.

Support for the Respublica and People’s Party is almost equal, with 6.2 percent and 6.3 percent.

The outlook is less positive for the National Social Democratic Party and the Baytaq party, which received 2.4 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

As the election draws closer, the debates are expected to become more intense and the issues more pressing. The next debates are scheduled to air on the Khabar TV channel on March 16.

Dairabayev and Yertysbayev will again represent their parties.

All others will have their leaders speaking on behalf of their parties, including Yerlan Koshanov from the Amanat party, Aidarbek Khojanazarov from the Respublica party, Azamatkhan Amirtayev from Baytaq, Azat Peruashev from Aq Jol and Nurlan Auesbayev, who serves as the chairman of Astana city branch of the National Social Democratic Party.

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