Kazakhstan president calls early elections

Dana Rysmuhamedova
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Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev set early elections for April 26 in a move that will almost certainly see the septuagenarian leader re-elected for another term

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev set early elections for April 26 in a move that will almost certainly see the septuagenarian leader re-elected for another term (AFP Photo/Alexander Klein)

Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday set early elections for April 26 in a move that will almost certainly see the septuagenarian leader re-elected for another term in the energy-rich state.

"In the interests of the people... and for the sake of the general and strict implementation of the law, I have taken a decision and signed a decree calling early presidential elections for April 26," the 74-year-old president said in a televised address to the nation.

Nazarbayev did not confirm his participation in the upcoming vote, although it is widely expected.

He cited a desire for presidential elections not to clash with a parliamentary vote as a key reason for the announcement.

Previously the presidential elections had been expected to take place at the end of 2016, with parliamentary elections scheduled for the beginning of the following year.

The announcement follows a February 14 request by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, a constitutional body, to hold elections just under two years before Nazarbayev's present term finishes in order to tackle the difficult economic situation in the oil-dependent country.

The call was echoed by Nazarbayev's ruling Nur Otan party two days later.

On February 11, in a speech to the government, Nazarbayev admitted that the republic was facing economic "difficulties" and that the government would need to cut spending for 2015-2017.

He said that he did not expect a repeat of last year's shock devaluation of the tenge national currency, which was slashed by almost a fifth overnight, despite low prices for crude oil and a weakened ruble in neighbouring Russia.

Nazarbayev's address came soon after the news of the death of his former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, in an Austrian jail cell.

Aliyev, who was regarded as one of Nazarbayev's biggest political foes, was awaiting trial for the alleged murder of two Kazakh bankers when he died on February 24. Austrian prosecutors citing a post-mortem, claimed suicide as the cause of death.

Aliyev's lawyers have publically doubted the alleged suicide. Austria had repeatedly refused Kazakhstan's extradition requests.

'Unpopular economic decisions'

While Nazarbayev's announcement will undoubtedly take away public attention from the death of Aliyev, a father to three of the ageing president's grandchildren, there is "no direct connection" in terms of timing, said Dosym Satpayev, director of the Kazakhstan Risks Assessment Group.

More likely, the decision to call for an early vote had been building for some time, Saptayev said, as Kazakhstan witnessed prices for its key export, crude oil, almost halve since last summer, necessitating "unpopular economic decisions that are better taken after an election than before."

"The elections themselves are entirely predictable. More important are the decisions that will be made after them," Saptayev told AFP.

The last time Nazarbayev faced re-election in Kazakhstan in 2011, he claimed over 95 percent of the vote in a ballot the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said lacked "genuine competition".

One of Nazarbayev's three challengers admitted that he had voted for the incumbent.

Despite the country's economic gloom, reflected in Standard and Poor's decision to cut its rating for the country to BBB from BBB+ earlier this month, the government has not shelved plans to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The games' host city, which will be either the republic's largest city Almaty or China's Beijing, will be announced in July.