November 10, 2011 7:02 pm

Kazakh lawmakers call for snap elections

Lawmakers in Kazakhstan have called for a snap parliamentary election expected to pave the way for an end to one-party rule in the oil-rich central Asian country.

Just under half of the deputies in the Mazhilis, or parliament, signed a petition on Thursday appealing to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country’s authoritarian president, to disband parliament before its current term expires in August 2012.

The parliament, where all the seats are held by the president’s Nur-Otan (Fatherland) party, is unlikely to have called for the early poll without Mr Nazarbayev’s blessing. MPs said it was important to hurry through the election to allow the government to prepare for a second wave of the global financial crisis that could undermine Kazakhstan’s oil-driven economy.

“We address the head of state with an initiative to issue a decree on the dissolution of the Mazhilis chamber . . . and set a date for early elections,” the petition said.

Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, a close adviser to Mr Nazarbayev, said the president was expected to call an election on January 14 or 15 that was likely to bring a second party into parliament, ending Nur-Otan’s dominance of the lower house.

A law change allowing the second-placed party in the next election to enter parliament even if it falls short of the 7 per cent threshold that guarantees a presence has made it easier for smaller parties to enter the assembly.

However, the Kazakh opposition is weak and divided and has been sidelined by Mr Nazarbayev, who retains a tight grip on power. A Kazakh court suspended the Communist party last month in a move that will remove an important competitor in the snap poll, and despite the law change, only Akzhol, Kazakhstan’s second biggest party, is likely to garner enough votes to gain seats.

However, Akzhol is seen as loyal to the government. “This is all window dressing,” said Kate Mallinson, political risk analyst at GPW, the London-based business intelligence consultancy.

A snap parliamentary election has been widely expected since the 71-year-old Mr Nazarbayev won a landslide victory at a presidential poll in April this year, extending his rule into a third decade.

Kazakhstan, considered the most stable region in central Asia, has seen a wave of explosions this year that has raised fears over increasing Islamist extremism.

Last month a previously unknown Islamist group threatened to unleash violence in the country unless a law on religion signed by Mr Nazarbayev this year was repealed.

The authorities have also accused opposition groups of supporting labour unrest in west Kazakhstan, where a prolonged strike paralysed production at two large oilfields for more than three months this year.

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