Friday, June 9

Kazakhs Head to the Polls as President Awaits a Loyal Parliament

Kazakhs are voting in early parliamentary elections on Sunday in what President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called the last stage of a government “reset” in response to deadly riots last year.

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(Bloomberg) — Kazakhs are voting in early parliamentary elections on Sunday in what President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called the last stage of a government “reset” in response to deadly riots last year.

Seven parties, including two newly-registered ones, are competing for 69 party-list seats in the 98-member parliament, with the remainder filled by the winners of new single-mandate contests that are part of Tokayev’s shake-up of the legislature. Polls open at 7 am and are scheduled to close at 8 pm

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“Parliament will remain a rubber-stamp mechanism for the executive,” said Kate Mallinson, founder of Prism Political Risk Management in London. Such a legislature “is crucial for Tokayev to manage the challenges that his government is facing.”

The president brought forward the vote in the energy-rich country the size of western Europe from 2025 as he moved to dismantle the legacy of his long-serving predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev following the unrest in January last year that Tokayev denounced co as an up attempted. called in Russian troops to help put down the violence then revised the constitution to restrict the presidency to only one seven-year term before winning 81% in snap elections in November.

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At 2021 parliamentary elections, the ruling Nur Otan party founded by Nazarbayev — who held power for three decades — won 76 seats. It changed its name to Amanat last year.

At stake now is the ability of Tokayev to push ahead with a contentious agenda that includes structural reforms and an effort to take on vested interests by targeting assets linked to the former ruler’s family.

Besides arrests that ensnared an ex-prime minister — who at the time was the chief of Kazakhstan’s national security service — and Nazarbayev’s nephew, Tokayev has also barred close relatives of the president from taking posts in government and state-run companies.

Looking beyond the elections, the lower chamber of parliament — known as the Mazhilis — can provide added legitimacy for the president as he contends with the risk of antagonizing some Kazakhs.

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‘Stamp of Approval’

“Tokayev is poised to pursue a very careful reformist agenda which would not be fully legitimate without a reformatted Mazhilis whose stamp of approval is needed to make any reform package passed look as having been approved by the entire people of Kazakhstan, and not just in the interest of the political and economic elites,” said George Voloshin, a Paris-based analyst at ACAMS, an anti-financial crime body.

More than a year after crushing the riots with the help of troops sent by President Vladimir Putin, Tokayev hasn’t backed Russia in Ukraine in return for its help.

Instead, the Kazakh president has sought to strengthen ties to the European Union and the US to try to reduce the central Asia’s country’s dependence on Moscow.

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Economic challenges including inflation are also top of mind for Tokayev. The government is selling vegetables from state stockpiles in an attempt to cool off food prices, which pushed annual inflation past 21% in February, the fastest since 1997.

“Even if the parliament still isn’t vested with genuine power, the fact that it’s got more power on paper will make it easier for him to blame the legislature for lack of progress on key political and social issues,” Chris Tooke, director of political risk at JS Held, a global consulting firm. “We will see limited progress on issues like privatization and liberalizing prices, especially given rampant inflation.”


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