Monday, August 07, 2006

Will there be parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan in December of this year?

For several weeks if not months, there have been rumors that Kazakhstan will have early parliamentary elections in December. The assumption is that the Commission on Democratization will introduce constitutional amendments that affect the form of the parliament. As a result, there will be a need for yet another early election in Kazakhstan. In the political community, some are merely saying that there will be elections soon, but others are stating confidently that the elections will be in December to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Kazakh nationalist protests in Alma-Ata of 1986. Early elections would not be something new for Kazkhstan, but this time the stakes may be much higher than in the past.

The political competition in Kazakhstan since last year’s presidential elections (also held early) has been quite intense. It has almost felt as if President Nursultan Nazarbayev became a “lame duck” leader immediately upon his election to his most recent term. Within days of his election, important political figures in the country were already speaking about the succession process. While Dariga Nazarbayeva almost immediately noted that her father would probably begin considering his succession in a “few years,” presidential advisor Ertysbayev noted that he not only expected the President to fulfill his term, but he thought it very possible he would be able to stand for another term after 2013. It seemed that a battle of powerful elite groups was being initiated even before President Nazarbayev had been inaugurated once again.

Two high profile opposition politicians, one during the presidential election campaign and one shortly after, have died under very odd circumstances, the details of which are still not clear. It is assumed by many, however, that these were political murders somehow connected to the growing struggle within Kazakhstan’s elite for positioning around the succession to Nazarbayev. During the weeks after the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, these battles briefly came into public view, with Dariga Nazarbayeva’s now infamous Déjà vu article in Karavan newspaper. As a result of Dariga’s public “airing of dirty laundry,” the last few months have seen an on-again/off-again battle between Ertysbayev (now Minister of Information) and Dariga and her husband, Rakhat Aliyev (presently Deputy Foreign Minister). Furthermore, the on-going trial of the accused in the Sarsenbayev murder crime seems to be shedding more light on the different players in the battle (see the post from August 2 below). Still, much is not entirely clear as to how various power groupings in Kazakhstan will line up in what is proving to be an introductory fight to the yet unscheduled battle royal of succession.

One thing is for sure—if there are parliamentary elections this December, it will be another opportunity to peer into the alignment of Kazakhstan’s elite power groupings and to start wagers on the heir apparent to the presidency. If past parliamentary elections are any indication, however, one should not hold his or her breath that the competition will be free and fair. In fact, it would seem that most of the competition in Kazakhstani elections have historically taken place behind the scenes long before ballots are cast. As recent activity in the political party sector indicate, the jockeying for position is definitely already underway. Still, if there are no constitutional amendments adopted this year and no new parliamentary elections, that should also not come as a shock. Afterall, it would also not be the first time that rumors of early elections turned out to be false. Whoever actually calls the shots on when elections take place in Kazakhstan likes to keep observers and participants alike always guessing.

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