Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 192

Various individuals have declared their candidacies for Kazakhstan’s January 1999 presidential elections, brought forward by President Nursultan Nazarbaev on October 8 (see the Monitor, October 13), but the 46-year-old ex-prime minister, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, is widely held to be the only serious contender.

The majority of rival candidates so far come from what is a traditionally weak, divided and mainly leftist opposition. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of Kazakhstan’s Communist Party, was the first to announce his intention to run for the presidency on October 11. Mels Eleusizov, head of the Green Movement and a prominent member of the broader group, “For Fair Elections,” has also said he will stand. At an October 9 press conference, Petr Svoik and Galym Abelseitov, co-chairmen of the other most widely known civil moment, Azamat, said that they might move to boycott the elections, which had been “an unconstitutional deal between the president and parliament to extend their terms in office.”

These candidates have also unofficially stated that they might instead be persuaded to back Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who, resigning from his capacity as economic advisor to the president, officially announced his candidacy on October 14. Interestingly, former head of Qostanai Oblast and Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Turkey, Baltash Tursumbaev, resigned from his job on October 14 to announce his candidacy in Moscow. He is believed to draw his main support from weaker opposition movements which operated in the early years of independent Kazakhstan. He has still to announce his candidacy in Kazakhstan itself (Russian and Western agencies, October 12-16).

The road ahead for the potential key rival, Kazhegeldin, will not be easy. He has some eighty days in which to campaign. The audio-visual media is almost entirely in state hands, and Kazakhstan’s main channel, Xabar, is run by President Nazarbaev’s daughter, Dariga Nursultanovna. Kazhegeldin and the opposition movements may be able to find a modus vivendi. While the latter need the ex-prime minister’s vast capital accrued during his time in office, Kazhegeldin sorely needs the movements’ organizational base around the Republic. The biggest stumbling block might be legal: This year’s May 8 amendments to the Electoral Law ensure that anyone with a record of corruption or participation in unsanctioned meetings is barred from standing in any election.–SC