Nazarbayev forever

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The Senate of the Parliament of Kazakhstan supported the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan in their initiative to hold early elections. There`s no doubt in the victory of the incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev but the new presidential term will not be easy because of the economic situation. Elections will take place in the context of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia`s active steps, and analysts say it is one of the reasons to be in a hurry.

If the Kazakh senators approve of the initiative by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan to hold early elections it will actually mean the adoption of the initiative by the 74-year-old President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev who has ruled the country for more than 26 years, taking into account his being the head of the Soviet Republic.

"Dear Nursultan Abishevich, we ask you to support the initiative of the Board of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan and consider the appointment of early presidential elections," says the statement of the House Speaker Kassym-Jamart Tokayev addressed to the President of Kazakhstan. Presidential elections are to be held in 2016, but Nazarbayev has decided to hold them early again. He did the same in 2011 having won the elections which had been held a year earlier.

Supporters of the early election say that it will allow the President and his administration to focus on combating the economic crisis which has hit the economy of the country.

However, according to a Russian expert who is familiar with the political elite of Kazakhstan, this intention of the President is connected with the desire to separate the presidential election with the parliamentary ones during which the opposition may try to consolidate its forces:

"The authorities have to stand on the defensive, therefore the elections are held short notice,” says the expert who visits Kazakhstan quite often.

The voting will take place in the context of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and this can`t but have a certain influence on what is happening.

As in Ukraine, there`s a significant proportion of the Russian-speaking population in Kazakhstan - more than 20%, and a great part of them lives in the north of Kazakhstan. According to the political analyst Theodore Karasik who specializes in the Middle East and Central Asia, "Nazarbayev and his team are aware of the potential destabilization associated with the Russian population of northern Kazakhstan and of the fact that the Kremlin can use this factor if the relations deteriorate".

Meanwhile, Nazarbayev himself spoke rather harsh of the role of Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, saying that in case of escalation Astana may give up its membership in the Eurasian Union. However, recently he has regularly called the representatives of the "Norman Quartet" of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France to hold another round of talks in the capital of Kazakhstan, seeking to deprive his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko from the role of a hospitable mediator.

Under the instability in Ukraine Nazarbayev is trying to strengthen his relations with the US, experts say. The previous US administration was cautious with regard to the Kazakh leader and even relied on the opposition, whereas now Washington notes the role of Kazakhstan to be a mediator in resolving the Ukrainian crisis.

At the end of January this year the Kazakh leader and the US President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation. A month earlier the US President sent a telegram to Nazarbayev on the occasion of Independence Day of Kazakhstan which noted that Kazakhstan "contributes to peace and stability among nations". According to the political analyst who knows the sentiment of the Kazakh elite, Nazarbayev has certainly gained support of the United States before making a decision on early elections.

Meanwhile, the competent expert on Central Asia Arkady Dubnov reminds that last summer Vladimir Putin "doubted" the long history of the Kazakh state which is going to celebrate a 550-year anniversary this year.

In his speech at the youth forum "Seliger" last August Putin said that the Kazakh leader "made a unique thing" - created the State on the territory where no state had ever existed. The words of the Russian leader left Kazakh political circles perplexed, to say the least.

The Russian President obviously meant to give a compliment to the Kazakh leader, but it turned ambiguous because everyone remembers Putin's words that "Ukraine is not even a state" but part of the territory “given as a gift” by Russia which were allegedly said at the NATO summit in 2008.

There will be no problems for Nazarbayev to win the elections: in 2011 the incumbent President gained 95.5% of the vote, while his closest rival Gani Kasymov gained less than 2%. Many opposition leaders fled the country and live abroad. His main political opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov, the former head of the Kazakh BTA Bank, has recently been arrested in France and can be extradited at the request of Russia where he is accused of financial fraud. The fate of the country banker will be decided by the authorities on March 4. It is supposed that Russia may subsequently hand Ablyazov over to Kazakhstan.

But even in the context of a completely weak opposition, economic problems still exist. Due to the decrease in oil prices Kazakhstan expects devaluation of the national currency, the tenge, which may further worsen the economic situation of Kazakhstan, once the most advanced state of all the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

And even after his victory Nazarbayev`s problems will remain the same: "Unemployment, regional relations and terrorism threat" – enumerates the expert. At the same time, Nazarbayev and the elite under him want their country to keep being an important diplomatic player, as well as the supplier of energy. In today's environment it will be more difficult, says Karasik.

Experts point out that regardless of his age, Nazarbayev will lead the country as long as he is healthy enough for that. At the same time they do not exclude that the President is preparing a successor from the elites loyal to him.

In an interview to the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Republic" the banker Ablyazov, who is imprisoned now, said that the most likely successor to the President of Kazakhstan is the current Prime Minister Karim Maximov, who will however start "dismantling" the system created by Nazarbayev after taking power.

Text and pictures by GAZETA.RU