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Election campaign kicks off in Kazakhstan
Associated Press - March 3, 2011
Leading opposition politicians have boycotted the April 3 vote they have called a sham. One political party, running perhaps the liveliest campaign of all, is urging people stay away from polling stations altogether.
Kazakhstan was not even supposed to have an election this year.
Nazarbayev's current seven-year term was due to end in 2012, but that plan was derailed by a petition campaign to hold a referendum on abolishing the next two scheduled elections and for the president to remain in office for another decade.
The one-party parliament also supported the referendum idea, but Nazarbayev's professed objections to the initiative precipitated an apparent impasse.
"Our Constitution says that if parliament has an insurmountable difference with the president, then it must be dissolved, and so the president took a decision that surprised everybody, because we needed to find a way out of the political crisis," presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbayev told The Associated Press.
Other contenders in the election include Gani Kasymov, leader of the Party of Patriots, Communist People's Party chief Zhambyl Akhmetbekov and environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, who says he is only running to raise awareness about green issues. Critics deride these candidates as nominal opposition put in place to make the election appear democratic.
Indeed, nobody questions whether Nazarbayev is going to win, but many instead wonder just how crushing his victory is going to be.
Despite the misgivings of the largely sidelined opposition, Nazarbayev, who has ruled the energy-rich, predominantly Muslim nation since it gained independence in 1991, is genuinely held in high esteem by many Kazakhs who see him as a guarantor of stability and continuity.
Kazakhstan's heavy reliance on oil exports left it reeling during the global financial crisis, but the economy now seems well on its way to recovery. Unemployment is low and demand for the country's vast natural resources is once more on the rise.
Some suggest that the ongoing wave of popular unrest in the Middle East may have unsettled authorities, however, and prompted the snap election.
"Events in Tunisia and Egypt... have confounded notions about the irremovability of presidents and the passivity of civil society in predominantly Islamic and rent-seeking countries riddled by corruption," said political analyst Aitolkyn Kurmanova.