Anton Morozov: The Features and Results of 2016 Elections in Kazakhstan
“The election campaign of the deputies of the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament – deputies of Majlis and the local representative bodies – Maslikhats, ended with an obvious and predictable result. Despite the official rhetoric about “importance and fatefulness” of the elections, the passed election campaign could be called as “technical measures” with evident outcomes.” The results of the 2016 elections in Kazakhstan, exclusively for CABAR.asia, analyzed by political scientist, Anton Morozov.
As well as in 2007 and 2012, the parliamentary elections were held ahead of schedule and coincided with the Maslikhat elections. In fact, even the scenario has not changed, only minor corrections to the text were made.
Let us recall that in 2007 immediately after the constitutional reform, the Majlis represented by group of deputies had appealed the head of state to dismiss their convocation and hold early parliamentary elections. This initiative was based on the fact that the lower house did not want to act as a “brake” for the reform. It was the first experience of the voluntary early termination of power by the lower house of the parliament.
A similar scenario was implemented in 2012, when a group of deputies reiterated a request to the head of state to dissolute the parliament. At this time, one of the main reasons for such decision was a high need in “fresh blood” for legislative support and acceleration for industrial and innovative development program, and probability of the second wave of crisis. But the main reason was that, from 2007 to 2011, the lower house of the parliament was represented by only one political party – all 98 seats intended for election of deputies from other parties, were occupied by members of NDP “Nur Otan”. It was a necessity to “dilute” the Majlis with representatives from other political parties.
The same scheme has been repeated in the 2016 elections. As an argument in favor of self-dissolution of the deputies, the following reasons has been called. The performance of Majlis on historical mission for creation of legislative base for implementation of the “100 concrete steps on realization of 5 institutional reforms” plan, need of public consolidation for crisis overcoming and also, an opportunity to save budgetary funds, by carrying parallel Majlis and maslikhat elections. I.e. we see the old, checked and effective technique in action.
It should be noted that, the socio-economic background on which the election campaign was held, was not the most favorable and iridescent.
Firstly, it is worth noting the devaluation of tenge that occurred in 2015 summer, as a result, already insignificant middle class had shrunk rapidly. Devaluation, so called “transition to floating exchange rate of the national currency” naturally reflected the social sphere.
In particular, the price for essential goods had increased. For instance, according to statistics, the price on food products had increased by 10,9% and non-food products by 22,6%.  In many regions, the cost for utilities increased rapidly. A number of small and medium business enterprises had to suspend their work. Consequently, the unemployment rate in early 2016 rose to 5.1%, while the number of unemployed amounted raised to 457,600 people.  In addition, these numbers are only officially registered unemployed, without taking into account the so-called, self-employers. Finally yet importantly, in December 2015, in comparison to the same period in 2014, a 7,8% decrease in real income per capita of the population has been recorded. 
Naturally, all of these outcomes, contributed to the increasing distrust of citizens’ not only to the national currency, but also to the state as a whole.
Secondly, besides the devaluation of tenge, the long-term negative trend in the social and economic sphere caused a price fall in main export goods: hydrocarbons, grain, non-ferrous and ferrous metals. According to statistics, a serious decline in the world prices for the main export items, in 2015 has led to 40% reduction of the income in the republic’s budget.
Third, the crisis has clearly highlighted the lack of effective implementation of many government projects, in particular, widely advertised SPAIID (State program for accelerated industrial-innovative development).
Logic of the solution. Invisible but existing
The expert community of Kazakhstan are citing the following factors as the main reasons for the early elections.
According to experts, in 2017 – time when the next elections had to take place, risks of increased protest mood emergence in the society could occur and even creating potential for possible destabilization of the situation in the country. To the point, one could note that, during early presidential elections in 2015 the same arguments were used.
According to experts, the tactical considerations has become as one more argument in favor of early elections. Two months is very limited time for political parties that are in “sleep mode” to organize more or less meaningful election campaign. Thus, the competitors were excluded immediately. Looking ahead, this action played a positive role, by restricting passage for “comatose” political parties to the parliament.
A number of experts include another reason of “urgent” elections, which is referred to the issues, that the newly elected members of the parliament will be addressed. They do not exclude that, in the current year, the question of carrying out the constitutional reform regarding the “redistribution of powers from the president to the parliament and government” declared by Nursultan Nazarbaev in 2015 will be raised.
In our view, the arguments do not look particularly convincing. With regard to socio-economic status, to imagine hypothetically, if the situation deteriorates seriously then the dissatisfied citizens would simply not have an authority for whom to vote.
The offered choice of political parties in Kazakhstan is not so rich. It is earthier “Nur Otan”, “Ak Zhol”, PCPK that were sat in the parliament for five years, and then disbanded or vague “Auyl”, “Birlik” and NSDP. As they say, with all the richness of choice there was only one alternative – ignoring the elections, but, according to the law, they would be declared valid in any appearance.
The same could be said of the “tactical” considerations. In our opinion, to believe that “Auyl”, “Birlik” or “NSDP” which were in “a political coma” one year prior to elections, will develop strategy on work with citizens, will offer electorate with attractive ideas, slogans and create a plausible, beautiful and interesting image, is somewhat naive.
Concerning the argument that the newly elected parliament members will carry out the constitutional reform on transition to presidential-parliamentarian form of governance, first, it is unclear why the former Majlis, represented by the same political parties, could not implement these changes, second, whether such form of government will be adequate and viable, considering a qualitative conditions of the Kazakh party system.
Overall, to explain the logic of having early elections, one could sum up with an episode form a popular movie: “-Do you see the gopher? –No. –And I do not see it. But it is there”.
The brave six
Political party “Azat”, positioning themselves as an opposition in relation to the current government, refused to participate in the elections due to: “…counting on the fact, that they can pass (to Majilis), whereas representatives of those public forces that oppose the government, is simply unrealistic ”.  The other six subjects of political space took part in the election race.
Democratic Party of Kazakhstan “Ak Zhol” (DPK “Ak Zhol”)-is a political party in Kazakhstan positioning itself as “constructive opposition” and a follower of “Alash” movement of the early XX century, numbering according to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Kazakhstan 175,862 members went to the elections with a program “Ak Zhol – time to work”. In the program “Ak Zhol” party states, that the party will be oriented in setting their political and socio-economic objectives in the “Kazakhstan-2050” strategy. “Ak Zhol” program objectives include the following: protection of business and giving mass character of entrepreneurship and market reforms and creation of productive economy. Educated and healthy nation as a source of qualified workforce and employment system development and unemployment reduction. Housing development as economy driver and development of the agro industrial complex. Transparency and accountability of government to the public; development of spiritual and cultural spheres of Kazakhstan; fight against corruption, judicial and legal reforms and security concerns.
People’s Communist Party of Kazakhstan (PCPK), standing on the principles of Marxism-Leninism and positioning itself as a “Leninist type of a party”, went to elections with an unnamed program, which has declared the global crisis of capitalism, as promotion of the true communist values. Among their objectives, they stated unity “well known and simple symbols of unison, happiness and prosperity”, as well as traditional for the country, cultural and moral orientations leading to “overcoming the crisis and conquering new horizons”.
It should be noted that PCPK was facilitated by the judicial decision on closing their closest competitors – the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK), accepted in August 2015 based on non-compliance of political party legislation.
Democratic People’s Party “Nur Otan” (DPP “Nur Otan”) according to the doctrine, counts its mission to “to ensure evolutionary development, building of democratic, prosperous, competitive and socially oriented state, where every law-abiding and hardworking citizen will benefit themselves and the overall society”. NDP “Nur Otan” called themselves as “political guards of Elbasy” and entered the elections with a large-scale program “Kazakhstan – 2021: unity. Stability. Creation.”
The party identifies the implementation of five institutional reforms as a major strategic task. These are, formation of an effective state apparatus, high need in rule of law, structural reforms in almost all spheres of social and economic development of the country, strengthening the identity and unity of the nation, which will form a future unified nation and formation of “open government”.
In the economic development sphere, the party supports the further implementation of the “Nuraly Zhol” program. In social sphere, “Nur Otan” has supported the idea of creating an effective social state. The creation is supposed to go through supporting the socially vulnerable segments of the population, providing labor employment, active housing policy and approximation of health care and education to the international standards.
In addition, the program has items related to security strengthening, stability and consolidation.
Considering “Birlik” and “Auyl” parties, it should be noted that, in fact, the past elections were their debut.
Social Democratic Party “Auyl” (SDP “Auyl”) was formed in autumn 2015, through merging with the patriots’ party of Kazakhstan. Up to this point, “Auyl” was positioning itself as a social democratic party. In their program “Returning traditions to aul!” the party focused on supporting the spiritual and moral values, where auls (villages) are acting as main keeper, which in party’s opinion are subject to risk and threat.
The party has declared that it intends to obtain social development of the country, especially in the village, create available and qualified education and health care systems and carrying out effective family and youth policies.
Political Party “Birlik” was established in summer 2013, by merging “Adilet” and “Rukhaniyat” political parties. It came up to the elections with a program called “Clean thoughts! Clean affairs! Clean environment! “.
The program was identifying the global economic crisis as the main source of all difficulties. The main initiatives and suggestions of the party were concerning the environmental, spiritual-education sphere, healthcare, economic and social spheres.
Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) differed from others by positioning itself as the only opposition party to participate in elections. Its participation had to create a competitive atmosphere.
NSDP has entered the election with the anti-crisis program, “Return yourself the voice, return yourself the country!”
The program was identifying the oligarchic economy, authoritarian political system, inefficient management and social irresponsibility of the state among the main causes of the crisis.
The main tasks to be performed by NSDP are, introducing modern life standards in Kazakhstan, overcoming the “loan commodity” nature of the domestic economy and transformation of the existing authoritarian regime to a democratic political system. Based on these objectives, NSDP has put forward proposals of reforming the social, economic and political spheres.
In general, by analyzing the programs of parties, experts have noted their similarity and monotony, which complicates identification of party associations, definition of their ideological orientation and populism of the majority of programs.
The voting was held on March 20 of the current year – just before the celebration of Nauryz. The election observation was carried out by 817 observers from foreign states and international organizations. Coverage of the election was performed by 147 representatives of accredited foreign mass media.
According to the CEC for the organization and conduction of elections there were 9840, polling stations organized. Out of the 9,810,920 citizens of the Republic included in the lists, ballots were received by 7,564,281 citizens. Thus, the voter turnout was 77.1%.
Voter turnout in the 2007, 2012 and 2016 Parliamentary elections. %
During the voting, an exit-poll survey was conducted. It was conducted by three organizations: research institute “Public Opinion”, science-research association “Institute for Democracy” and the sociological agency “Media Consul”. The survey, involved around 145 000 people.
Exit-poll and official results of the elections. %
Apparently, from the table, exit-poll results do not strongly differ among themselves and from official results of elections.
According to the CEC, by the voting results NDP “Nur Otan” won 6,183,757 votes or 82.20% of the vote. 
Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won 537,123 votes or 7.14% of voters who took part in voting;
Democratic Party of Kazakhstan “Ak Zhol” – 540,406 votes or 7.18% of voters who took part in voting;
Political party “Birlik” – 21,484 votes or 0.29% of voters who took part in voting;
All-National Social-Democratic Party – 88,813 votes or 1.18% of voters who took part in voting;
People’s Democratic Patriotic Party “Aul” – 151,285 votes or 2.01% of voters who took part in the vote.
As a result, in accordance with the elections law, “Nur Otan” party has received the mandate of 84 deputies for the Majilis of the Parliament, the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan “Ak Zhol” – 7 seats and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan – 7 seats.
Thus, the balance of the political- party forces in the lower house of parliament, compared to 2012, no major changes have been occurred.
The defeat of “Auyla”, “Ruhaniyata” and NSDP in the elections was expected and understandable.
In general, these results have been quite expected and predicted. It should be noted that despite lack of “surprises”, it is not the worst option. The results, conditionally, correspond the classical division of political forces into – center, right and left and guarantees continuity and predictability of legislative work process.
With regard to the main question – the possible constitutional reform on changing the existing form of government from presidential to presidential-parliamentary or parliamentary, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, while speaking at a briefing on the results of parliamentary elections made it clear that a specific decision on this matter has not been made and the question is under discussion. “… Your key question – whether the political system will change. The question of Constitution. The decision was taken by people in the referendum and the change will also be taken by people. The background of the question is clear. Changes need to be done. The presidential system of government is existing in Kazakhstan. The process may involve the distribution of power between the branches – the president, parliament and government. We are thinking in this direction … When this happens; we will look at the economic situation in the world and in the country. If there will be a necessity to move from one government system to another, we will be thinking very seriously on this matter and we are thinking… ” 
 Food prices in 2015 rose by 10.9% // «Profinance.kz», 21.01.2016 г. http://profinance.kz/news/novosti_dlya_koshelka/inflyaciya_za_2015_god_sostavila
 Unemployment rate in Kazakhstan in January rose to 5.1% // “Vremya” 2/12/2016
 Average per capita real incomes of Kazakhstan in December 2015 decreased by 7.8% over the year // “Business Kazakhstan” of 15.02.2016
 The party “Azat” will not participate in the elections to the Majilis of the Parliament // Tengrinews, 21.01.2016. (https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/partiya-azat-budet-uchastvovat-vyiborah-majilis-parlamenta-287683)
 Report on the results of early elections of the Majilis, Parliament deputies, Republic of Kazakhstan, the sixth convocation // The Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 22.03.2016. (http://www.election.kz/rus/news/messages/index.php?ID=3294)
 Savastyanov I. Nazarbayev: We are seriously thinking about a redistribution of powers between branches of government // Internet magazine Vlast, 20.03.2016 (https://vlast.kz/novosti/16345-nazarbaev-my-serezno-dumaem-nad-pereraspredeleniempolnomocij-mezdu-vetvami-vlasti.html)
Author: Anton Morozov, political scientist, (Kazakhstan, Almaty)
The opinions of the author may not coincide with the position of CABAR.asia