Kazakhstan Presidential election 2015 and future of Central Asia

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

Agha Iqrar Haroon is a Development Observer. His area of work include Central Asia and Eastern Europe region
Agha Iqrar Haroon is a Development Observer. His area of work include Central Asia and Eastern Europe region

The sitting President of Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev is contesting for another term of five years and he announced his electoral campaigning at the Convention of the ruling party Nur Otan. Presidential election will be held on April 26.

The candidacy of Nazarbayev was proposed by a well-known Kazakhstani scientist, academician Kenzhegali Sagadiyev. It may be mentioned that Sagadiyev is very much respected personality of Kazakhstan due to his great contributions for an independent republic of Kazakhstan.

“Nazarbayev is the most dignified candidate”, said the academician, speaking at the Convention on behalf of the party and this proposal practically decided the candidacy of Nazarbayev.

The campaigning in Central Asia and particularly in Kazakhstan is different from South Asian countries where candidates talk about micro level issues like carpeting roads and providing drinking water etc etc. In Kazakhstan, candidates provide future Foreign Policy, economic blueprint and macro level social planning in their speeches therefore pre-election statements are very important to understand future strategy of the country. I as a Development Observer is keenly following what Nazarbayev is saying because Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular are going through a cross-road of political history due to its proximity with Russia as well as terrorist hub of Afghanistan. Melting economy of Russia is effecting overall economic face of Central Asia and advancing terrorism at the borders of Afghanistan—Turkmenistan is disturbing all other central Asian countries.

Nazarbayev without referring impact of oil prices meltdown is opening his future economic and foreign policies during his election campaigning speeches and indicated recently that the work of the Kazakhstani government is focused on “not letting negative external factors” to impact Republic’s development.

“We are about to face a fateful period in the life of our country. The current situation in the world is becoming increasingly difficult. Economic risks have increased sharply, due to falling prices in the world, our budget incomes have decreased. Kazakhstan is not the only country to undergo these problems- almost all countries are experiencing similar difficulties.”, said Nazarbayev in one of his speech at Astana.

Nazarbayev outlined several solutions to economic challenges and threats including the new economic programme namely “Nurly Zhol”. In short, Nazarbayev has promised to continue along the same line and continue with existing strategies but less dependence upon external economic factors.

“A candidate should only run for president if he has a set of programmes and goals with which he wants to improve the lives of people. If he has no such strategies, there is no point in running at all,” said  Nazarbayev.

There is another debate in western media that why Presidential elections are moved from year 2016 to 2015? The classic reason for moving the presidential elections from 2016 to 2015 is said to be their possible overlap with parliamentary elections that are also scheduled for next year (2016). Two electoral campaigns going on at nearly the same time were considered too much and the decision was made to disperse them.

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Why the Presidential, and not Parliamentary elections first? It makes sense to look for the answer to this question in Nazarbayev’s recent speech.  Nazarbayev has promised to expand the practice of accountability of government agencies before the country’s population, including with the help of Internet, which will also enable feedback about the work of government agencies and departments.

“It is important to strengthen the role of public councils in state bodies and local administrations. It will only make things better”, said Nazarbayev

According to Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan needs the implementation of so called civil budgeting. In new system, the Civil budgeting will be given to the representatives of civil society with an ability to participate in budget distribution, especially in the regions. State agencies will lose their unofficial status of “Caesar’s wife” and civil budget will be at the disposal of local governments and civil society (Mohallah level).

“The possibilities for citizens to appeal against the actions of civil servants must be legally expanded”, said Nazarbayev.

His statement indicates that the integration of self-regulation in society, directed at reduction of the areas of responsibility of state bodies, with the transfer of their powers to civil society institutions will be the essence of new reform. In this situation it will be possible to decide on a new system of elected local executive bodies and of government in general.

Nazarbayev also talked about the logical result of this political strategy:

“Step by step, a constitutional reform must be carried out. This reform implies redistribution of power from the President to the Parliament and the Government in accordance with our traditions,” said Nazarbayev.

This announcement about constitutional reforms led to the media speculations on various possible scenarios and Kazakh media talked about transition from its presidential form of government to a presidential-parliamentary structure, or even a purely parliamentary one. The system will probably be tested by the newly elected Parliament, so that by the next Presidential elections in 2020 the system will be running smoothly.

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According to Kazakhstani experts, the ‘division’ of elections will have a positive impact on the country’s economy. This point of view was expressed by Esenzhol Aliyarov who is a Doctor of Economic Sciences at the Institute of Economics of Kazakhstan, during a television programme “Business Time”.

“The preliminary presidential elections are the most talked about event in Kazakhstan right now. This measure is provided in the constitution. The new President will be elected in accordance with the will of the people. Next year’s parliamentary elections will need to take place and the smaller the time interval between the elections, the worse the situation will be for the economy and for the country’s budget”, said Aliyarov.

Russian social analysts support the opinion on the positive political effect of preliminary elections. Russian media is of the view that Nazarbayev was the most wanted candidate right now because of political as well as economic upheavals faced by the region.

“There are no real alternative candidates to the national leader (Nazarbayev), who formed the modern Kazakh state after the collapse of the USSR. At least, not yet”, said Andrey Kazantsev who is Doctor of Political Sciences and Director of the Analytical Center of MGIMO MIF of Russian Federation. Nazarbayev’s authority as president will be extended. This is, in fact, the only realistic scenario.  And the key factor will be that the president will have a “trump card” in the conduct of both, domestic and foreign policies in the form of a new mandate of the people’s trust. It is quite clear that the percentage of votes for Nazarbayev will be high (around 75-90%) without any manipulations. The results will be fair, because people trust Nazarbayev. The reason for preliminary elections is an aspiration to drive the elections away in time from all sorts of threats expected in 2016. I don’t think that both elections happening in 2016 would lead to serious destabilization. But there is indeed a probability of concurrence of elections and the peak of risks.  Thus the decision on preliminary elections has to prevent the possibility of any destabilization resulting from potential risks, “explained Kazantsev.

Liberals tend to condemn Kazakhstani electorate for excessive loyalty to the current President. In 2011 the number of votes in favour of the current leader was 95% of the total number of voters. The opposition traditionally attributes such high numbers to rigged process of election or to pressure coming from administrative resources. But more often it seems to justify its own political immaturity. I have observed during parliamentary as well as presidential elections in Uzbekistan that voters in Central Asia actively participate in election process and start coming to polling stations early morning. I observed over 80% votes were polled by midday during Uzbekistan parliamentary as well as Presidential elections. Higher turnover actually indicate trust of people over election process and believe on power of their votes. Moreover Ukraine crises has taught so much to young democracies of Central Asia and Eastern Europe and people are very careful while dealing with political issues because they have seen how a beautiful country has been destroyed on the name of western democracy and how certain powers played their ruthless games in Kiev to establish their writ at the cost of Ukrainian bloodshed.

“Where Ukraine had to run??? She (Ukraine) understands many centuries run away from Russia and the West betrays it many centuries. About what stability you speak… it is a striking example of last color revolution, commented a journalist friend from Ukraine while commenting on disastrous situation in eastern Ukraine.

I believe that people welcomed so-called “coloured revolutions” at the beginning of the century in post-Soviet space  but their excitement has very much faded regarding dangerous slogans of Change, Western democracy because it suddenly turned out that behind the so-called slogan of free will of citizens, there were hands of skilled manipulators. And the promised freedom turned into a catastrophic fall in living standards, and in some cases even civil wars and Ukraine situation has given political maturity to people of Central Asia as well as Eastern Europe. This is why today the people of Kazakhstan are grouping to vote for Nazarbayev, hoping to preserve stability in the country in times of global instability.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.



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