Following months of speculation over the possible dissolution of parliament, members of Kazakhstan's Mazhilis have sent a written request asking the president to disband the chamber.
President Nursultan Nazarbaev is expected to approve the measure, paving the way for snap elections that, according to local media, would be held on January 15.
The initiative has been presented as a way to allow lawmakers to focus on the economy immediately, rather than being preoccupied with elections scheduled for late 2012.
It is also been touted as a fast-track way for Astana to put an end to international criticism of what is essentially a single-party system -- Nazarbaev's Nur Otan party currently occupies all the seats in the 105-strong Mazhilis, and all 47 seats in the Senate. If history is any indication, however, the move could leave opposition parties with little time to prepare their election campaigns.
Criticism has intensified of Nur Otan's preeminent status and its implications for possible democratic reform in Kazakhstan, which Nazarbaev has led for two decades and could remain in power for years to come
Such fears gained further traction with a recent ban
on the Communist Party that neutralizes both that party and the allied People's Front, which planned to field candidates via Communist lists.
Under Kazakh law, Nazarbaev can initiate an early election upon request from parliamentarians and has the authority to dissolve parliament after consultations with the prime minister and the heads of the bicameral legislature.
Lawmakers say 53 Mazhilis members signed the petition, which was delivered to Nazarbaev on November 10.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Mazhilis member Nurtai Sabilyanov, who announced the measure at a press conference in Astana, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that creating a new parliament with a "minimum of two political parties is one of the reasons to dissolve the current Mazhilis."
"According to our current laws, the next parliament will have more than one political party, regardless of the vote results," Sabilyanov said. "Therefore, it would be appropriate to implement, without any delay, this democratic mechanism allowing the creation of a multiparty system. Such a step would demonstrate Kazakhstan's commitment to political pluralism."
Sabilyanov added that he was "confident" that this decision would "find understanding among our voters and in the international community, as we are acting based on the higher interests of the people and the state."
Kazakhstan last year amended its election law to allow any party that finishes second to enter parliament, ensuring that the next elections will result in parties other than the ruling party holding seats. The 7 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, which opposition parties found to difficult to pass, was also abolished.
'Convinced' Of Dissolution
Nazarbaev predicted earlier this year that the current Mazhilis would continue to function until the end of its term in August-September 2012.
However, presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, who is considered to speak for the president's office, told local media that he was "convinced" Nazarbaev would dissolve parliament and give his support to holding polls in January.
In a snap presidential election in April, Nazarbaev secured a new term in office, winning more than 95 percent of the vote. At the time, the president's opponents criticized authorities for leaving them with almost no time to prepare.
Talks about putting an end to single-party parliament begun in Nazarbaev's circle almost immediately after his inauguration.
Yertysbaev said in April that the next Mazhilis would be at least a two-party parliament, just like "Republicans and Democrats in the United States or Conservatives and Labour Party lawmakers in Britain."
Yertysbaev, sparking condemnation by opposition parties, added that a new political party could be created on the basis of the Atameken business union, which brings together dozens of major business companies.
Such a party has not been established, but since then authorities have sought to portray the Ak-Zhol pro-government party as a party of businessmen and the middle class.
Local experts say Ak-Zhol has high chances of entering the next parliament.
Kazakh opposition leaders, including Vladimir Kozlov, the leader of the unregistered Alga party, have repeatedly said the authorities "would not let real opposition parties into parliament."
Oil-rich Kazakhstan, widely considered the most stable and prosperous country in Central Asia, has no history of free and fair elections.
written by Farangis Najibullah, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service