Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party retained its overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections, according to an exit poll, preserving President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s nearly 27-year grip on power as he confronts economic challenges triggered by the slide in oil prices.
Nur Otan won 82 percent of the vote in Sunday’s elections, according to the Institute of Democracy poll broadcast by the state-owned Central Communications Service. The Ak Zhol and Communist parties both won 7.2 percent of the votes to clear the hurdle for representation in parliament, while three other parties each received less than 2 percent of the votes, it said. No margin of error was given.
Turnout was 77.1 percent, with the lowest level of votes cast in the second city, Almaty, at 34.1 percent, Kazakhstan’s Central Elections Commission said on its website. Nur Otan won 83 seats at 2012 elections, with Ak Zhol and the Communists also the only others to enter parliament last time. There are 98 elected seats in the 107-member parliament, which also has nine appointed delegates.
Kazakhs voted after an election campaign described as “low-key” by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Parties’ campaign platforms differ little in tone and substance,” the body said in a March 11 report.
The former Soviet Union’s second-largest oil producer after Russia is battling an economic crisis triggered by crude’s decline. The tenge has fallen about 45 percent against the dollar since the central bank switched to a free float in August to defend reserves amid devaluations in Russia and China. The currency’s decline has hurt living standards and sent inflation spiking to 15.2 percent in February, the fastest since 2008.
Oil accounts for more than 50 percent of the Central Asian nation’s budget revenue, according to Standard and Poor’s, which warned in October that Kazakhstan faces “deteriorating economic conditions.” Flush with cash when crude was $100 a barrel, Kazakhstan must adjust to an “era of cheap oil” that may last five to seven years, Prime Minister Karim Massimov said in a Jan. 22 interview.
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The president has demanded extensive reforms, including privatizing all state-run companies, to attract foreign investment and spur Kazakhstan’s recovery. He urged a “strengthening of the fight against corruption” as part of a “100 steps” program of institutional improvements published last year.
Nazarbayev, 75, who’s ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, also pledged to devolve greater power to parliament as part of a political transition promised after he won a fifth term in snap presidential elections last April. The country’s top political issue “remains the question of the succession” to Nazarbayev, Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura International Plc in London, said by e-mail.
Nazarbayev said after casting his vote in the capital, Astana, that the current government “must be allowed” to complete institutional reforms and anti-crisis measures. “We will take into account the situation in the economy, in the world and in the country” to decide when to “redistribute power between president, parliament and government,” he said, according to the state-owned Kazinform newswire.
Moves toward “a less centralized, more parliamentary system in preparation for his departure have not materialized,” Anna Walker, Associate Director, Europe, at Control Risks in London, said by e-mail. “Intensification of the economic crisis probably made such a move appear too risky and parliament looks set to remain as beholden to the executive as ever after the elections.”
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