Thursday, August 24, 2006

Will there be early presidential elections in Uzbekistan (and new parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan)?

In Central Asia, the most regular aspect of electoral cycles has historically been their irregularity. While the countries' constitutions and electoral legislation appear to mandate for regular terms and elections, they also have enough ambiguity to allow for interpretation. Kazakhstan has notoriously been the home to “early elections,” particularly the last two presidential elections that were both moved up about a year from their expected dates. Given President Nazarbayev’s overwhelming victory last year in an early election, the legitimacy of which was hardly even questioned by international organizations, it would not be entirely surprising if President Karimov were to follow suit and move up his elections as well.

While there have been no official statements to that effect, rumors in Tashkent emanating from fairly reliable sources suggest that President Karimov has exactly that in mind for next year. These rumors say that a decision has already been made to move up the presidential elections expected for December 2007 to January 2007 (well, at least they will still be in 2007). One wonders why Karimov would need to do this given that he has never allowed any credible candidates to run against him. The events of May 2005 in Andijan, however, show exactly how uncomfortable the present government is with any hint of political discord. In that context, Karimov may feel that early elections as soon as possible would take advantage of what appears to be a lull in the storm of Uzbek dissent. Such an act would also ensure that those who might want to disrupt the next presidential elections in the country would have less time and less warning in order to plan any moves. After all, if Karimov were to run (which he is fully expected to do), it would be unthinkable that he could lose. All he really has to fear are efforts to disrupt the actual election.

At the same time, there are further rumors about the early parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan that I had discussed in a post a few weeks ago . On the Kazakhstani website kub.kz, an article reports on the constitutional changes to the structure and authority of the parliament proposed by the state commission on democratization. According to these proposed changes, the lower house of the Kazakhstan parliament would almost double in size, and half of it would be made up of proportionally elected “party-list” candidates. While this would certainly offer an excuse for new parliamentary elections, it is unclear whether these changes (and other related changes) could be made to the constitution in time to call elections in December of this year (as formerly rumored). Of course, stranger things have happened in Kazakhstan.

If anything is clear, it is that election rumors will keep everybody guessing in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan until the respective governments show their hands and make a play to call elections. I suppose the best rule of thumb is to “expect the unexpected.”

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