Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev vs Dariga Nazarbayeva

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev vs Dariga Nazarbayeva

Presidential elections in Kazakhstan will be held on June 9. This was announced by the current head of state Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev on republican TV channels. He stressed that early elections are necessary to get rid of some of the uncertainty and decision to hold them was made after consultation with Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Immediately after this announcement Tokayev signed a decree on early elections and ordered all institutions related to the process to ensure transparency, democracy and everything else needed for the voting.

The first question that arose after the announcement of the day of voting is whether Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev himself would take part in them. According to the Constitution of Kazakhstan, there are several mandatory requirements, one of which says that candidate has to live in the country for the past 15 years. According to this requirement, Tokaev is not suitable to become a candidate - he worked as Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and lived in Geneva from March 2011 to October 2013. In other words, he lives in Kazakhstan for less than 6 years. It is not yet clear whether new amendments to the Constitution will be made in order not for him to become a candidate.

Director of the Alma-Ata-based Risk Assessment Group, Dosym Satpayev, told Vestnik Kavkaza that "Constitution of Kazakhstan has changed so often that technically, it should be pretty easy to do it one more time. The requirement for presidential candidate to live in Kazakhstan for certain number of years bothers many. At one time, when Imnagali Tasmagambetov, who held prominent posts, was appointed as ambassador of Kazakhstan to Russia, many regarded this decision as an attempt to remove heavyweight politician the internal political game, despite the fact that his popularity in society was higher than that of other members of the elite, but being abroad at the rank of ambassador is a difficult matter. In the end, this person is serving his state, he's on a business trip, not on vacation, so situation can be seen from different views," Satpayev said. According to him, there's another problem with elections - presidential candidate should know the state language very well. This criterion is not clear. Neither Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, nor Dariga Nazarbayeva speak Kazakh language that well.

There's no doubt that elections will have a competitive background. Perhaps leaders of those political parties that Tokayev met on the eve of this announcement will soon become candidates. He met leaders of Ak-Zhol, Aul and the ruling Nur Otan party. "There will be no self-promoted candidates - the law doesn't give people such right. That's why assumptions that it was decided to hold early elections so that opponents didn't have time to prepare can't be true. Kazakhstan has no one from the opposition who could become a real challenger and participate in the elections," Satpayev noted.

According to political scientist, this decision is also dictated by other circumstances. First of all, the elite wants to quickly stabilize current situation: Tokayev is seen as acting president, as transitional figure, and elections must be held so that the next head of state will receive a five-year term as a legal, elected president. Second of all, Nazarbayev's health is also an important factor, since he doesn't want to wait until December 2020, when elections would have taken place initially. He's in a hurry to hold elections to make sure the country's course is consistent. It seem that his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, speaker of the Senate, and his nephew Samat Abish, deputy head of the State Security Committee, may become candidates,” Dosym Satpayev believes.

Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Central Asian Studies Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, believes that considering recent visit to Moscow, it's likely that Tokaev will represent the ruling party. Expert believes that elections will be held early due to psychological factor: “They want to complete process of transition of power and end period of instability, when everyone wonders who will represent the Nur Otan party at elections. If they didn't make this decistion, certain separatist sentiments could have begun, and current political elite wants to maintain stability," Pritchin said.

According to him, Kazakh electoral system is traditionally built in such a way that non-systemic opposition doesn't have opportunity to participate in elections. However, situation in Kazakhstan right now could force authorities to allow non-systemic opposition to participate in the elections to increase legitimacy, and such decision wouldn't affect electoral situation, considering consolidated approach of Kazakhstan's elite and control the first president has over it. He hold finger on the pulse, and will provide maximum support for “his” candidate in the elections."