Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 93

In an apparent effort to dispel persistent rumors of early elections, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev on May 5 confirmed that parliamentary and presidential elections “will adhere to the Constitution” and take place on December 1, 2000. The president dismissed rumors of early elections as fabrications. (Russian agencies, May 5)

The possibility of early elections cannot be wholly ruled out, however, if only because Nazarbaev has not always adhered to the prescribed schedule. In 1995, he avoided the election that would otherwise have been due in 1996 by organizing a nationwide referendum in which he was confirmed in office until December 2000.

Had a presidential election been held in 1996, Nazarbaev would probably have won it. Opinion polls indicated strong support for the president, who was credited with maintaining interethnic harmony. Nazarbaev’s position is still strong today, but his electoral success can no longer be taken for granted. The population increasingly blames the present leadership for economic hardship. The president appears keen to improve his image: Last year, he launched “Strategy-2030,” with a strong emphasis on social reform, and on May 7, he established a special post in his press office designed to boost his domestic image.

Meanwhile, some in the press are eyeing two potential challengers for the presidency: former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin and the head of Almaty Region, Zamanbek Nurkadilov. So far, both men insist that, if they run at all, it will not be until 2005. This leaves Nazarbaev in a strong position. He can count on the support of the regional bosses, whom he himself appoints, and of key members of the financial elite. Presidentially appointed young managers in the oil and gas industries are also likely to prove loyal to Nazarbaev. (See Monitor, April 22) So far, there is little sign that the issue has caught the popular imagination. In these circumstances, and given the absence so far of any strong presidential challengers, Nazarbaev’s chances of another term in office appear good. –SC