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Why Did No One From Western Kazakhstan Show Interest In Running For President?

Incumbent Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev won't be facing any rivals from western Kazakhstan in his bid for reelection.
Incumbent Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev won't be facing any rivals from western Kazakhstan in his bid for reelection.

The western part of Kazakhstan has huge oil and gas fields, all the country's ports, and a new railway line linking the country to Iran via Turkmenistan.

Considering the region's economic and strategic importance, it is somewhat surprising that no one from there seems to be interested in running for president.

Kazakhstan's early presidential election is scheduled for April 26. The outcome is not in any doubt since the incumbent Nursultan Nazarbaev is one of the three candidates competing in the presidential "race" and he is expected to register an easy victory.

Nazarbaev's competitors are Turghun Syzdyqov of the Kazakh Communist People's Party, and Abdelghazy Kusainov, the head of the Federation of Kazakh Unions, but it is doubtful anyone will hear much about those two after April 26.

Rather than writing about what is shaping up to be the most uneventful presidential election in Kazakhstan's history, I would rather dwell on the lack of a candidate from the west of the country.

This was pointed out to me by one of my colleagues from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq.

My friend Yerzhan said it was strange that, from all the regions of western Kazakhstan, where the people tend to be politically active and savvy, there was not one person who even announced an intention to run for the country's top post.

I was intrigued and asked for proof. Yerzhan responded by producing a list of the 26 people who originally announced their plans to run for office. This list indicated where the prospective candidates resided and, sure enough, none came from the four enormous western provinces (Kazakhstan has 14 provinces).

Admittedly one, Kayrat Maishev, came from Kustanay Province, which neighbors Aqmola Province, where the capital Astana is located, and also borders Karaganda Province, Nazarbaev's home region.

But from Aqtobe, Atyrau, Mangistau, and West Kazakhstan, no one even tried to enter the presidential race.

Twelve of the 26 candidates announced in March registered their place of residence as Astana and 10 said they were living in Almaty, the former capital.

For the record, of the would-be candidates not living in the current or former capital, one was from Shymkent, near the border with Uzbekistan. Two were from Kokshetau Province. One of these was presidential candidate Syzdyqov, and the other was the aforementioned Maishev from Kustanay, who didn't make the final cut.

The obvious explanation for the lack of candidates from the four western provinces would be the low population. Altogether, the four provinces are home to some 2.5 million people in a country with a population of 17.2 million.

-- Bruce Pannier, with contributions from Yerzhan Karabek of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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