Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev declared his intention to run in an April 26 election to extend his 25-year rule, the longest of any leader in the former Soviet Union. “All citizens should enjoy the same level of rights, carry the same burden of responsibility and have access to equal opportunities,” Nazarbayev, 74, told a meeting of his Nur Otan party in the capital Astana after announcing his candidacy in the earlier-than-scheduled poll. He held out a promise to redistribute some powers once proposed reforms are completed that would include strengthening the independence of the judiciary, creating a more “professional” bureaucracy with foreigners possibly appointed to state posts, and boosting the status and accountability of the police. The former capital Almaty could be given a special status as a financial center, he said.
As first secretary of Kazakhstan’s Communist Party since 1989, Nazarbayev was the de-facto head of state at the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991. He has since won four presidential elections, most recently in April 2011 when he received 95.5 percent of the vote for a five-year term that would have expired in 2016. The lack of any clear succession plan heightens institutional risks for a country where policy making is “highly centralized,” Standard & Poor’s said on Feb. 9, when it cut Kazakhstan’s sovereign rating to BBB from BBB+.