Kazakhstan: Fearing Election Fever

Kazakhstan’s presidential elections on December 4 are anticipated with great trepidation by Central Asia’s authoritarian leaders, some western governments, and not least by incumbent Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev himself. The question on everyone’s minds is whether voting – which will be manipulated to a greater or lesser degree – will trigger similar upheavals to those elsewhere in the region over the past year, causing chaos in the economic powerhouse of Central Asia, the world’s ninth largest country.

The World Today
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While limited anti-government violence is conceivable, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s fifteen-year rule is not under threat this month. Recent unexpected regime change involving popular protest in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, as well as a rather different situation in Uzbekistan earlier this year, have prompted Nazarbayev to make the necessary preparations to avoid this in his own country.

The timing of the election is significant: a vote in winter in such a vast but sparsely populated country reduces the chances of mobilising popular support and the short notice has given the opposition little time. Meanwhile, as throughout the former Soviet Union, those few media outlets which are not state controlled are leaned on heavily, suffering at the hands of tax inspectors, anti-libel lawyers or hired thugs.

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