Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev will participate in the next presidential elections, which will be held in 2006. Nazarbaev declared his intention to run for another term on May 14, 2004 during a question and answer session broadcast on Kazakh national television.
Nazarbaev stressed that “the Constitution and laws of the country allow me to run for the presidency in the next elections.”
He added, “Of course, this question will be resolved by the people. If the people trust me, then I shall continue to work as a president to strengthen our state and increase the welfare of Kazakh citizens.” (Russian agencies, May 14, 2004).
Nazarbaev is a typical apparatchik of the Soviet school. From 1984 to 1989, Nazarbaev was Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. From 1989 until 1991, he was the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, member of the Military Council of the Turkestan Military District.
Nazarbaev was elected to the presidency of Kazakhstan on December 1, 1991. In 1995, his presidential mandate was extended for five years as a result of a nationwide referendum.
In January 1999, presidential elections were held in Kazakhstan, with several candidates vying for the top post. Nazarbaev received more than 80 percent of the votes and was elected president again for a new seven-year term.
According to both foreign and domestic human rights activists, in the period preceding the 1999 presidential and parliamentary elections, the government strived to discredit serious political rivals by accusing them of unsubstantiated administrative violations and by closing or temporarily halting the printing of private newspapers that were deemed to be sympathetic with the political opposition.
In subsequent years, journalists, editors and opposition politicians who criticized the government increasingly became victims of physical assaults and became central figures in politically motivated criminal cases. Particularly targeted were those who exposed incidences of government corruption.
According to Human Rights Watch, in the past five years the political development of Kazakhstan has been characterized by the government’s attempts “to close” political space, to take government activities out of the sphere of public scrutiny, and to minimize competition from main rivals representing political opposition inside the country. (See the Human Rights Watch report – Political Freedoms in Kazakhstan. April 2004, Vol.16, No.3).
At the same time, if it is assumed that criticism charged by human rights advocates can be substantiated, it is obvious that human rights in Kazakhstan are recognized much more than in other Central Asian republics.
If judged by this indicator, Kazakhstan is comparable only to Kyrgyzstan. It is also noteworthy that it is precisely under the leadership of Nazarbaev that Kazakhstan was able to achieve relative (compared to other Central Asian states) economic prosperity.
The higher living standard in Kazakhstan explains the mass inflow of illegal workers from neighboring Central Asian states. Kazakhstan is the only country in the region where a relatively large segment of affluent business entrepreneurs (approximately 10 percent of the population) exists.
Even though Kazakhstan’s economic prosperity is largely explained by the presence of rich natural resources, particularly oil and gas, it is not the sole explanation.
Unlike Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the government in Kazakhstan does not interfere in the private sector, allowing private enterprise to function in a true market economy.
It should also be noted that Nazarbaev’s foreign policy is characterized by flexibility, which allows the president to maintain good relations with Western countries as well as with Russia.
This is the main reason why Nazarbaev has stayed in power. And this flexibility will allow at least some stability and predictability in Kazakhstan’s political situation.