Independent analysts in Kazakhstan say there are strong incentives for President Nursultan Nazarbaev to call a presidential election before the scheduled date of December 2000. This argument is put, for example, in the bilingual Russian and English newspaper All Over the Globe by its editor Nurlan Ablyazov, writing jointly with the head of the independent Institute of Socio-Economic Analysis, Sabit Jusupov. But while they predict that elections will be held prematurely, they say the president is unlikely to opt for a referendum as he did in 1995. (All Over the Globe [Almaty], June 14) (Like other Central Asian presidents before and after him, Nazarbaev replaced Kazakhstan’s 1995 presidential election with a referendum.)
Ablyazov and Jusupov point out that 1998 differs markedly from 1995. The socioeconomic situation for the average Kazakhstani citizen is considerably worse now than it was then. The country also has a memory of popular protest, in the form of both the leftist movement Azamat and the workers’ protests in 1997 in southern Kazakhstan. Even if society remains apathetic, fragmented and apolitical, criticism of presidential policy in the media and by ordinary citizens on the streets has become more frequent than in 1995. Consequently, unlike in 1995, the president is likely to feel more need to gain popular legitimacy.
Whether the president will wait until 2000 is open to speculation, but the two authors offer some compelling arguments for an early election. Socio-economic and ethnic cleavages are not yet destabilizing factors in the country, they say. Socio-political stability is further aided by the fact that the opposition’s leftist movements that were most active in 1996 and 1997 have now quieted down. Given that the socioeconomic situation of the average citizen is likely to deteriorate still further before it improves, an early election could save the President from becoming hostage to increased dissatisfaction. The two authors see the spring of 1999 as the most likely date for an election.
Some evidence supports this prediction. Frequent recent shake-ups in the government suggest that the President may be using the move to Astana to consolidate his government prior to an election. Furthermore, the President’s recent statements on the need for the government to deliver on economic reform imply that he is keen to portray a consolidated economic reform path. The President may feel that this path could be hijacked by two years of political campaigning. Recent changes in media ownership (See the Monitor, July 14) may also perhaps indicate that the president is increasingly keen to control the media.–SC
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