The ruling party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Monday it wanted the veteran leader to extend his term in an early election this year, in a sign the oil-rich nation’s elite sees no apparent successor after his 26-year grip on power. The 74-year-old former steel worker, popularly nicknamed “Papa”, has ruled his vast Central Asian nation of 17 million with a strong hand since 1989 when he became the head of the local Communist Party. His Nur Otan party published a statement in support of a “people’s initiative” aired at the weekend by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, which he also chairs, to hold a snap election this year and extend his rule by another five years. “We believe the initiative on holding an early presidential election is the most correct decision in full compliance with the interests of the nation and the people,” the Nur Otan party said in a statement posted on its website (www.nurotan.kz) The president’s office could not be reached for comments.
Nazarbayev, who keeps a tight lid on dissent and faces no real challenge from the country’s small opposition, was elected by almost 96 percent of votes in 2011 and his five-year term ends only in late 2016.
Nur Otan and the assembly, which represents the nation’s ethnic groups, both said that a new term would allow Nazarbayev to steer Kazakhstan through economic difficulties caused by low oil prices and a crisis in neighboring Russia.
With the support of his ruling party, which dominates the legislature, a new five-year term seems an easy win for the former Soviet apparatchik.