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Kazakhstan: President Shows He's Ready For Reelection Campaign

On the evening of 24 August, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev appeared on state television to answer questions, in both Russian and Kazakh, from the country’s citizens. With Kazakhstan’s presidential election set for 4 December, the well-scripted, well-organized television session looked more like the opening of campaign season than an open exchange between the leader and his constituents.

Prague, 25 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- One reporter noted that 68 percent of the roughly 23,000 questions sent by mail or e-mail to Nazarbaev focused on social conditions, education, pensions, health care, and other issues.

But what most people in Kazakhstan were waiting for was undoubtedly the moment he made the following comment about the presidential election, which is likely to be held in just over three months' time:

"Bearing in mind that, according to the constitution I have the right to run for the presidency, and if the parliament makes such a decision [that the presidential election should be held this December] -- it is the Mazhilis [lower house] of the parliament which makes decisions on presidential elections -- I will run for the presidency, and hope for the support of Kazakhstan's people," Nazarbaev said.

If the questions asked during the 3 1/2-hour televised question-and-answer program were any indication, Nazarbaev has ample public support. At times the queries -- read out loud by journalists -- seemed more like praise than an actual question:

“Dmitrii from Ust-Kamenogorsk asks: ‘It’s well-known that several years ago a number of Slavic organizations criticized you, but lately they all voice unconditional support for your policies. What, in your opinion, Mr. President, explains this extraordinary metamorphosis?’”

Some people, like Nadia Fatkulina, a high-school music teacher from Semipalatinsk, did not even ask questions.

“Now it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even feel like turning on the television, as there is hardly a day without bombings, acts of terrorism, and most importantly [news that] innocent people are dying," Fatkulina said. "Thank God that we don’t have this in Kazakhstan. Things are calm here. Looking at what is happening in neighboring countries, one is glad that we have no fears for our children, for our relatives and those close to us. And I, as a mother, want to thank you sincerely Nursultan Abisevich [Nazarbaev], for the peace and tranquility in Kazakhstan. Thank you so much.”

Some questions did address serious issues. One caller asked about former high-ranking government officials who are now leaders of Kazakhstan’s political opposition. Nazarbaev was ready for the question and used some interesting examples from the past to make his case.

“The French King Louis XIV said: ‘When I name one person to a post, I create hundreds of dissatisfied [people] and one ingrate,'" Nazarbaev said. "And there is another story. As is well known, Jesus Christ had 12 apostles, he loved them all and treated them all equally. But once -- as is known to all from the famous painting 'The Last Supper' -- they sat at the table, one sat on the left side of Jesus and another on his right, and the other 10 started to become jealous, in particular Judas. Since that time, one such as Jesus is born rarely, and those like Judas cannot be exterminated like mosquitoes.”

During the program Nazarbaev dismissed some citizens’ worries about a so-called colored revolution -- like those in Georgia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan -- happening in Kazakhstan. Nazarbaev again responded by citing another famous figure from history.

“I remember the ingenious saying of Victor Hugo: 'Poverty gives birth to revolution and revolution to poverty.’ Today Kazakhstan’s economy is two times larger than that of Ukraine and 2 1/2 times greater than that in Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, and others. All of Kyrgyzstan has a budget lower than that of Almaty. This is the horrible position the new leadership there find themselves in. I don’t envy them, but we will help them,” Nazarbaev said.

The economy and standard of living were popular topics for questions as well. Nazarbaev's responses indicated he is relatively well-prepared for the campaign season ahead -- at least, until the talk turns to Soviet history.

“The average wage has risen by three times, as have the average pension and stipend. In the Soviet Union, there were 13 republics [there were actually 15] and we were in 13th place. And now, according to basic social indicators, we are in first place,” Nazarbaev said.

The registration process for presidential elections has not officially started yet. But Nazarbayev's appearance yesterday left few voters with any doubts about what the incumbent's campaign will be like.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

Kazakhstan: Can Opposition Compete In Presidential Elections?

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