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Amid Economic Woes, Nazarbaev Tells Kazakhs To Take 'Deep Breath Like Yogis'

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev speaks at the congress of his ruling Nur Otan party in Astana on January 29.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev speaks at the congress of his ruling Nur Otan party in Astana on January 29.

What to do when your cash cow is stumbling and life is giving you outrageously priced lemons? Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, for one, believes it's time to "pause, take a deep breath like yogis" and forget about it.

To be precise, Nazarbaev said to "forget about the dollar" -- which has risen against the Kazakh national currency as the energy-rich country has felt the pinch of plunging global oil prices. But the message was clear enough -- don't worry, be happy.

"Yes, lemons have become 150 tenges more expensive, but we can live without lemons, can't we?" Nazarbaev said on January 29 while addressing a congress of his Nur Otan party held to iron out its program ahead of March parliamentary elections.

Despite official data showing that consumer prices rose nearly 14 percent in 2015, the Kazakh president painted a rosy picture, claiming prices for staples like milk, butter, and horse meat had actually fallen over the past 12 months.

He also claimed that the Kazakh economy -- Central Asia's largest, and heavily dependent on revenue from oil and natural gas -- had lived for "half a year with $30-per-barrel oil and nothing has happened."

He did, however, indicate that Kazakhstan wouldn't be above using money sent offshore by "people cited by Forbes magazine, whom we allowed to become rich." The jab was clearly intended for those who benefited from the country's post-Soviet privatization, but the Kazakh president indicated he was in a forgiving mood.

"The initial privatization, the initial money accumulation has never been absolutely pure, transparent, white, and fluffy," he said. "Various things have taken place. That was all around the world. That is why we are forgiving [you]. Bring the money back. Privatization of the country's 800 objects is under way. Take part in it, take the objects."

The comments were particularly ironic, seeing as all of the Kazakhs listed in Forbes business magazine's 2015 list of the world's billionaires have close ties to or are members of the Nazarbaev family.

The president, who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, dissolved the lower house of parliament on January 20 and called early elections for March 20.

Nazarbaev has a history of calling early elections, leading to suggestions that the upcoming parliamentary polls were moved from autumn to spring to avoid holding an election under potentially worse economic circumstances.

Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free and fair by Western observers and there is little doubt that Nur Otan will retain its control over parliament -- where there has been no opposition for years.

Nur Otan revealed its list of 127 candidates for the Mazhilis's 107 seats. Among them are Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, who is currently deputy prime minister.

The list also includes several pop singers and sports celebrities, including middleweight boxing champion Gennady Golovkin and an actor who played the young Nazarbaev in a series of locally produced biopics.

With reporting by Reuters