Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev Wins His Fifth Election

Photo courtesy: Official site of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan

It came as no surprise, Nursultan Nazarbayev has won yet another election in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. The incumbent president knows his country and his people well. President Nazarbayev is an experienced politician. In his campaign, he addressed concerns, criticisms and proposed solutions.

With a voter turnout of 95 per cent, the 74-year-old President Nazarbayev received almost 98 per cent of the vote. This was his fifth election win, which will now extend his 26-year rule in the oil-rich country until 2020.

Two opposing candidates: the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan Turgun Syzdykov and self-nominee, pro-environmentalist Abelgazi Kussainov, shared less than 3 per cent of votes.

So, communism, environmentalism or old regime? There was little to choose from.

I grew up in Kazakhstan and I still visit my family, relatives and friends every year. None of them think red or green. And it can’t be otherwise. Now, people worry about their jobs, how to afford education for their children and about stability in the country.

Kazakhstan faces many internal challenges. As one of the world’s major oil-exporters, the country’s economy is suffering  under the weight of sagging oil prices. Sanctions against its strategic partner Russia, levied over the crisis in Ukraine, hurt Kazakhstan too. The national currency, the tenge, fell against the U.S. dollar. In February 2014 the cost of one U.S. dollar was 155 tenge, and a year later it was 185 tenge, a 16 per cent devaluation.

1There are many external threats too. Kazakhstan is close to troubled zones such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, all of which pose a serious menace of radicalization and terrorism. Muslim families fear their sons will fall victims of ISIL and other Islamists.

Kazakhstan is home to more than one hundred nations and ethnic groups, who represent diverse faiths. Any religious or social unrest can easily disrupt stability, which, in turn, can provoke separatism of territories. Russians who comprise the majority of population on the country’s northern borders may want to seek separation from Kazakhstan. Colour revolutions can also captivate the country.

It’s also important to understand the psychology of people of the post-Soviet country.

The older generation is just lifting the iron curtain. Many still haven’t yet tasted the Western culture forbidden for 70 years. Many haven’t travelled much outside of the former Soviet borders. Middle class and entrepreneurs have just learned to exploit the levers of capitalism.

The young generation, however, can’t get enough of the West. Cinemas are crowded on opening nights of the sequels of Transformers, X-men or Toy Story. Network gaming clubs, which are rampant across the country, offer youth the latest games on PC, Xbox and PS4.

To give an economic boost, President Nazarbayev plans to build at least five manufacturing plants, an oil refinery and a new copper smelter. These construction projects would boost the economy and provide employment for the population. To address corruption and nepotism, Nazarbayev promised changes that will replace the hierarchical form of the government into a horizontal one. Promises of transparency, government accountability came from his lips.

The people of Kazakhstan know well the criticism coming from the international community regarding the country’s human rights record and questions regarding control of freedom of speech and the press. As the international community might question the fairness of elections, Kazakhstanis are confident in their choice because they haven’t seen any credible alternative.

It’s also important to understand people of Kazakhstan support President Nazarbayev. Behind him, rises a newly-built capital—Astana. Nazarbayev has made successful efforts in discarding nuclear weapons, inherited from the former Soviet Union. This earned him international recognition. Most importantly, President Nazarbayev over his years of rule kept his promise. He kept stability, peace and harmony in the country.

By choosing Nazarbayev yet again, the people entrusted him to hand over Kazakhstan as a developed Central-Asian country to the future successor.