Kazakhstan’s decision to hold early presidential elections in April, a year ahead of time, comes at a time of turmoil for the country. Generally considered a success story of the post-Soviet space, Kazakhstan faces a number of simultaneous storms, ranging from the declining oil price and fallout of sanctions on Russia to the general geopolitical instability resulting from the Russian-Ukraine war and uncertainty concerning Afghanistan’s future. Against this background, the decision to hold the election a year ahead of time raises the question whether Kazakhstan’s prized stability is in question. Any decision to hold early elections could seem to provide the incumbent with an added advantage and leave potential challengers scrambling to mobilize for an election they did not expect. Incumbency provides an important advantage in any country, and clearly, an incumbent president is at an advantageous position in planning for an election only two months away. This is no doubt the reason why incumbents in many countries have made the practice commonplace. In Israel, early elections were held in 2012 and another is scheduled for 2015. The United Kingdom, of course, has institutionalized the practice, and there, a Prime Minister is expected to call elections at the time that is most suitable for his party.
Would it be fair, then, to say that President Nursultan Nazarbayev is trying to gain the upper hand against his prospective challengers? Given the realities of Kazakhstan’s politics, this is most unlikely. Unlike the advanced democracies where early elections are common, Kazakhstan’s political spectrum is not characterized by highly competitive elections between strong political parties. Quite to the contrary, both in historical and constitutional terms, President Nazarbayev is in a category of his own. Considered by many Kazakhs the father of the nation and the guarantor of its stability and development, Nazarbayev towers over the country’s political scene.
For reasons related both to his standing and to the country’s political climate, Nazarbayev has not faced serious challengers in any of the elections he had contested. While politics is the art of the possible, it is most unlikely that any serious challenger could emerge during the year to come, even in the event of an economic downturn.
It would therefore be a mistake to interpret the scheduled snap election primarily as a reflection of the Kazakh leadership’s concern over its domestic legitimacy, or – as American consultancy Stratfor suggested – “to divert the attention of the Kazakh people from the economic crisis”. The logic behind the snap election is likely to rest more accurately with Kazakhstan’s acute geopolitical and geo-economic context.
Full Article: Kazakhstan’s Snap Election.