Rumours about presidential and parliamentary early elections in Kazakhstan are intensifying. Presidential elections may take place as soon as the beginning of 2019 – more than one year ahead of schedule.
The last presidential elections were held on 26 April 2015, when President Nursultan Nazarbayev received 97.7% of the votes.
Previous presidential elections have also taken place ahead of schedule and this pattern of early elections could also be repeated. It is a familiar political practice for Kazakhstan and has its own logic: early elections reduce uncertainty as well as the heat of the political struggle. In the current situation, a behind-the-scenes struggle for power and position will continue because of Nazarbayev’s advanced age.
Holding extraordinary presidential elections in 2019, as well as parliamentary elections in 2020–21 — the two cannot be held in the same year — would complete the electoral cycle and act as a stabilising factor. Society and the business elite want not just stability, however, but are also eager for change.
Indirect signs also point towards an imminent election campaign. Attention should be paid to unfolding efforts to eliminate the proto-party project Alash (People’s Party) from domestic politics.
The name Alash has nationalist-patriotic connotations. The Alash Party existed from 1917–20 and was a centrist constitutional democratic party that advocated a federal structure for Russia. The Bolsheviks accused Alash activists of opposing the Soviet authorities and many were shot in the early 1930s. The party gained the aura in Kazakhstan of martyrs and patriots.
Another proto-party — Zhana Kazakhstan (New Kazakhstan) — was established in spring 2017. It is a national democratic platform whose activists hold moderately nationalist positions and criticise the authorities, including for rapprochement with Moscow. Zhana Kazakhstan criticises and condemns Kazakhstan’s Soviet past and calls for the recognition of the genocide of the Kazakh people in the 1930s by the Soviet authorities.
It is quite likely that the authorities planned for the different transition scenarios. In preparation, new political projects were launched. These scenarios were then frozen and the projects associated with them became superfluous or even undesirable.
Likewise, the new role of the Security Council in the power succession, established by amending the constitution, was disavowed in the early autumn. Nazarbayev appointed a technical candidate as chairman of the council. The clearing of the political field of proto-party projects suggests there will be no surprises in the forthcoming elections.