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Kazakhstan: Early Elections Coming As Lower House Of Parliament Dissolved

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo) (RFE/RL) June 20, 2007 -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev officially dissolved the Mazhilis today and scheduled new elections for August. Zhuldyz Toleu of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service was at the Nur-Otan meeting when Nazarbaev made the announcement.

"I'm making the decision to dissolve the Mazhilis and call early elections," he said. "The early elections of Mazhilis members by party lists are to be held on August 18, 2007."

Changes Bring New Elections

Lawmaker Nurbakh Rustemov said that the move was coming. He was among those speaking at a press conference on June 19 just after 50 of the 77 Mazhilis deputies approved requesting the president dissolve the Mazhilis.

"No one is thinking about the voters or people's interests at all. I think they are thinking about [the politicians] interests."

"We asked the president to dissolve [the parliament] in order to make the changes possible," he said.

Those changes include increasing the number of seats in the Mazhilis from 77 to 107, all of which must be filled by party lists. Under previous law only 10 of the 77 members were chosen on the basis of party lists.

Under a ruling from Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council on June 18, the Mazhilis cannot vote to dissolve itself -- only the president can take that step.


That is an interesting ruling considering that Article 63 of the constitution says the following: "The president of the Republic of Kazakhstan may dissolve parliament in these cases: the expression by parliament of a vote of 'no confidence' in the government; two refusals from parliament to give consent to the appointment of the prime minister; a political crisis resulting from insurmountable differences between the chambers of parliament or parliament and other branches of state power."

Another Mazhilis deputy, Erasyl Abilqasymov, who elected in 2004 as an independent, said that early elections are needed to give parliament a voice in the country's affairs.

"The dissolution [of the parliament] is necessary for sure," Abilqasymov said. "The major reason is the fact that it turned into a puppet parliament. It is not able to utter a single word against what the government says. There is no intention to solve the real issues that the population face. Whatever those above it say, it implements with no objection. Unfortunately we have forgotten the people."

Only one candidate from an opposition party (Ak Zhol) won a seat in the 2004 parliamentary elections. That candidate, Alikhan Baimenov, later split the party and threw his support behind the president.

These early elections were predictable not long after the 2004 parliamentary elections. Then, Darigha Nazarbaeva, the eldest daughter of the Kazakh president, said on several occasions that there should be more seats in parliament.

Nazarbaeva founded the Asar party (in January 2004) which last year merged with the Otan party, created to support her father. That party is now called Nur-Otan and has nearly 1 million registered members in a country of just over 15 million people.

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai (file photo)

A more recent signal that an early parliamentary poll was coming was parliament's decision on June 18 that parties cannot form electoral blocs. That was precisely what the opposition Social Democratic Party and Naghyz Ak Zhol Party announced was their intention on June 11. A successful union of the two parties would have a created a new party that the party's leadership said would have more than 100,000 members.

Social Democratic Party leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who ran for the presidency in 2005 and before that was the Mazhilis speaker, told RFE/RL correspondent Danabek Bimenov it contradicts previous policy.

"Previous laws allowed political parties to participate in elections in blocs," he said. "Now [the authorities] are trying to prevent that with the new law explicitly showing that they are scared of such situations and they are trying to prevent them."

Registration rules for political parties in Kazakhstan require a party have at least 50,000 members. There are currently 10 registered parties of which only the Social Democratic Party and Naghyz Ak Zhol could be considered opposition parties.

Tuyakbai said today's announcement of early elections seems designed to leave the opposition little time to prepare for the poll.

"It is possible to say -- especially taking into account all the wide advertisement activities of Nur-Otan party that started a long time ago -- that the decision to hold early parliamentary elections so quickly, on August 18, has only one goal -- not to give the opposition parties any chance to get ready and launch their election campaigns in full scale," Tuyakbai said.

Lost Mandates

For candidates who won seats running as independents, the new election system heralds the end of their tenures in parliament. One such person is Bolat Abishev, who said this after Mazhilis deputies asked the president to dissolve the lower house.

"I do not see any reason [for the dissolution]," he said. "No one is thinking about the voters or people's interests at all. I think they are thinking about [the politicians] interests. Tomorrow, when the new [parliamentary] elections are held, they want to get on the list to show that they are loyal to the power holders. As for the people, they are off the agenda."

According to the constitution, new elections must be held within two months from the time parliament is dissolved. Only the Mazhilis is affected since members of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, are selected for their seats, not elected.

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

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