Kazakhstan’s next regular political vote should have been held on August 2012. Nevertheless, President Nazarbayev on 16 November issued an order to dissolve the fourth Majilis (lower chamber of parliament) of Kazakhstan and fixed the term for snap parliamentary election to be held on January 15, 2012.
The initiative was presented as a way to allow Parliament to focus on the economy immediately, rather than being preoccupied with political elections. Indeed, this move was mostly seen as part of Pres. Nazarbayev’s drive to improve the Country’s image - in terms of opening the political scene to ‘competition’– thus appeasing international criticism on what is considered more as a single-party political system. As a matter of fact, an amended election law (last year) allows for the first time any party that finishes second to enter the 107-seat Parliament, even if it fails to pass the 7% threshold for representation.
Elections take place in two stages. On 15 January, 98 seats are decided from party lists through the general vote. The 9 remaining seats are appointed by the People’s Assembly – a consultative body loyal to Pres. Nazarbayev – on 16 January and go to the representatives of the Country’s ethnic groups.
7 are the parties competing. Nur Otan (the Presidential party) has fielded 127 candidates, Ak Zhol 63, Adilet 59, the Social Democrats (OSDP) party 54, the Communists 21, the Patriots’ party 20 and the Auyl party 18. All except one, the OSDP, are regarded as loyal Presidential supporter.
According to preliminary results, the Presidential Nur Otan party won, as expected, a landslide victory gaining 80.7% of the vote (at last Parliamentary election back in 2007 it gained 88.05% of votes and all 98 parliamentary mandates). The pro-business Ak Zhol party came second and obtained 7.5%, and the Communist People’s party came third with 7.2% of the votes. The other four parties failed to meet the 7% threshold. Turnout was 75%.
Rather than introducing a multi-party system, this election succeeded in President’s intent of moving the Country closer to a Russian-style “managed-democracy” system. It indeed fulfilled its objective of opening the Parliament to “system-friendly” parties as particularly for Ak Zhol - which is a party led by Azat Peruashev, a successful businessman who was elected as leader in mid 2011, shortly after leaving the Presidential Nur Otan. On the other hand, non-systemic opposition parties such as OSDP and the Rukhaniyat party were already marginalized before elections. OSDP’s co-leaders Abilov, Tuyakbay and Yergaliyeva have all been disqualified few days before the vote by the Central Election Committee on technical shortfalls, while the head of Rukhaniyat party was also sidelined after its open criticism of the Government over deadly crashes that took place in mid-December in the Western town of Zhanoaozen. Therefore, the vote turned unfair already before election itself, and antigovernment opposition has already alleged these elections were marred by widespread violations.
Overall, with these results being confirmed in the following days, Kazakhstan is unlikely to face any major political instability at least in the short term. Nevertheless, the Country itself is not going through an easy period, facing growing social unrest (see major clashes between riot police and oil workers of the Western Kazakhstan region of Mangistau having taken place in the previous months), and increasing public disillusionment with growing wealth gap and lack of progress in fighting corruption and improving living standards. Religious discontent is also on the rise - due to Nazarabyev’s increasing grip on religion (in Sept. 2011 it hurriedly tightened the Country’s religion law) in order to address the phenomenon of growing religious extremism –, and the succession issue is not yet solved either, thus continuing to represent a worrying challenge for the Country’s future stability. Finally, recent and forthcoming street protests the neighbouring Russian “managed – democracy” system is experiencing, are another risk factor which may be able to exert a certain degree of influence to Kazakhstan’s opposition forces and more disenchanted society.