On October 8, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev declared that he would concede to parliament the power to, first, shorten his term of office by two years and, second, call early presidential elections on January 10, 1998 (Reuters, October 8). Like other Central Asian presidents have done, Nazarbaev replaced Kazakhstan’s 1995 elections with a referendum which extended his powers until December 2000. The decision to hold early elections is not unexpected (see the Monitor, July 19).
According to Marat Ospanov, chairman of the lower house of parliament, sixty-two of sixty-three lower house and all forty-three upper house deputies voted to bring the election forward from 2000. This decision was part of a nineteen-point package of amendments introduced for the country’s constitution by both houses of parliament on October 7. The most important of these amendments include the extension of the president’s term of office from five to seven years (the next president will be in power until 2006), and that of both houses of parliament by one year each. The president’s minimum age has been increased from 35 to 40, and the age limit of 65 lifted. Also, parties and movements participating in parliamentary elections next year will now only have to pass a 7 instead of a 10 percent hurdle (Russian agencies, October 7, 8, 9).
One local independent newspaper called the past two weeks a “spectacle,” which resulted in a “barter of privileges” between president and parliament (Delovaya nedelya, March 9). Events suggest a political pact. Nazarbaev’s September 30 televised national address promised far-sweeping democratization and ruled out early elections (see the Monitor, October 1). The subsequent week, termed one of “political intrigue” by Nazarbaev, saw the sudden emergence of a “belligerent” parliament, one notoriously subservient to the president. Eventually, the president was portrayed as bowing to parliament.
This would not be the first time that Nazarbaev has used ostensibly constitutional means–here a parliamentary majority–to extend his powers. The extension of his rule is, of course, subject to his re-election, but the short pre-election time frame is probably designed to reduce opponents’ chances. If re-elected, Nazarbaev will stay in office for a longer period, as will the newly elected parliamentarians (all the lower and half of the upper house are re-elected in 1999). Parliament cited the Russian crisis as one reason behind the need for early elections, arguing that avoiding a protracted pre-election campaign would maintain unity and stability. Perhaps without recognizing the inherent contradiction of his statement, one parliamentarian contended that elections are needed to legitimize Nazarbaev’s rule (which the referendum back in 1995 had failed to do) but they need to be held early to avoid the expense of a pre-election campaign, a luxury ruled out by the present economic downturn (Karavan [Almaty], October 9). Nazarbaev, though yet to announce his candidacy, is tipped by most to stand for re-election. –SC
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