Kazakhstan to hold early presidential vote April 3

Last Updated: Friday, February 4, 2011 - 22:02

Moscow: Kazakhstan`s leader on Friday called early
presidential elections for April 3, an accelerated timetable
that gives the country`s weak opposition forces little time to
prepare.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the
sprawling Central Asian country since its independence from
the Soviet Union in 1991, holds almost-unchallenged power and
is virtually certain to win the vote.

Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and
fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe, which the country chaired in 2010.

The parliament, in which all seats are held by Nazarbayev
supporters, last month called for a referendum on extending
the president`s rule by at least another decade. But that move
was ruled unconstitutional this week, and Nazarbayev said he
supported early elections.

Nazarbayev has tried to project a democratic image
despite detractors accusing him of corruption and undemocratic
practices.

Some analysts said the early elections could be a
strategy for him to fend off anti-authoritarian protests like
those that broke out in Tunisia and Egypt this year.

It is unlikely that Kazakhstan`s opposition can mount a
vigorous challenge.

The leader of the Ak Zhol opposition party said it was
not sure it would even put forth a candidate and another
opposition group, Azat, will decide on a candidate only after
a series of meetings, RIA Novosti said.

Despite the misgivings of Nazarbayev`s critics, he is
generally held in high esteem by the population of 16 million,
and supporters credit him with ensuring stability and rising
prosperity.

Kazakh authorities have in recent years been steadily
installing a cult of personality. Most notably, parliament
voted last year to name Nazarbayev "leader of the nation", a
title that gives him the right to approve important national
and foreign policies after he retires and grants him lifetime
immunity from prosecution for acts committed during his rule.

Kazakhstan is rich in oil and natural gas and is of
strategic interest because it borders both Russia and China.

PTI



First Published: Friday, February 4, 2011 - 22:02

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