ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s parliament asked President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday to set the date for an early election which is likely to extend his rule over the oil producing nation into a fourth decade.
The lower house of parliament, dominated by Nazarbayev’s ruling Nur Otan party, swiftly passed a 104-0 vote to back a proposal for him to seek re-election this year. The 74-year-old authoritarian leader has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989.
In what appears to be a well-orchestrated process, the initiative was first aired last weekend by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, a constitutional body chaired by Nazarbayev. Nur Otan supported the idea on Monday.
“Esteemed Nursultan Abishevich, we ask you to support this initiative ... and in line with the constitution to set the date for an early presidential election,” the deputies said in their address.
The president’s office could not be reached for comment.
If Nazarbayev, who is by law allowed to run for president as many times as he wants, now decides to hold an early election, the vote must held within two months.
The former steel worker, nicknamed “Papa”, has ruled his vast steppe land of 17 million with a strong hand since he became the head of the local Communist Party 26 years ago.
A former member of the Soviet Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo who is officially titled “Leader of the Nation”, Nazarbayev keeps a tight lid on dissent and faces no real challenge from the country’s small opposition.
He was elected by almost 96 percent of votes in 2011 and his five-year term ends only in late 2016.
Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest economy and the second-largest post-Soviet oil producer after Russia, will trim its budget and expects slow economic growth this year due to a fall in oil export revenues and a crisis in its close ally Russia.
“In the nearest time, the combined efforts of our entire society should aim to transform the risks and threats of the world crisis into new prospects for our country’s economy,” the address to Nazarbayev said.
Nazarbayev has overseen market reforms, attracted more than $170 billion in foreign direct investment and preserved religious and ethnic stability in his mainly Muslim nation.
But under his 26-year rule Kazakhstan has never held an election judged to be free and fair by the West, which has criticised Nazarbayev’s authoritarian methods.
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Dominic Evans