Kazakhstan holds early presidential elections on Sunday and the only uncertainty over the result is the size of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s majority in extending his 26- year rule. Then the real struggle for power may begin. The veteran leader, who won 96 percent of votes in the 2011 election, is a shoo-in to beat two little-known opponents and win a fifth term. Voting starts at 7 a.m. local time and ends at 8 p.m. Preliminary results may be announced Sunday night, with a final tally due within 10 days.
For Nazarbayev, who turns 75 in July, the critical issue is succession as he seeks to maintain stability in the former Soviet Union’s second-largest oil producer, wedged between Russia and China. He may use the new mandate to groom an heir, while he manages devaluation pressure on the tenge to aid the country’s struggling economy, according to Dosym Satpayev, director of the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group.
By seeking a further five-year term, Nazarbayev is “showing that he hasn’t made up his mind who the successor will be,” Satpayev said by phone. Contenders include his elder daughter Dariga, his son-in-law Timur Kulibayev, and the powerful Prime Minister Karim Massimov, he said.
Nazarbayev has balanced between Kazakhstan’s two powerful neighbors and kept tensions in check in a region that’s a complex patchwork of ethnic groups and that faces a rising threat of Islamic extremism.