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How will the new face of «the New Kazakhstan» look like to be determined by the parliamentary elections

photo: inbusiness.kz
20 February 2023

Political fever

The preparation for the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan has entered into its conclusive phase. Let us remind here, that the voting will take place on 19 March 2023, and it will determine the composition of the Majilis (the lower house of parliament) and the structure of maslikhats (regional parliaments) for the next five years. However, early February was an unusually hot period for the traditionally drowsy Kazakhstan political class. The political parties conducted their extraordinary conventions, approved the election campaigning plans and nominated candidates for participating in the elections. And no wonder they were in such rush: on 8 February the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan finished the acceptance of documents from the candidates and started registration of the party lists. This analysis is dedicated to description of the parties claiming for determining the «political face» of «the New Kazakhstan», their program statements and their chances to win in the race.

We already wrote earlier that the next extraordinary parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan represent the final stage of this multi-tier election cycle initiated by Ak Orda. According to the statement of the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the refurbished Kazakhstan «is migrating to the new state model, the new format of the interface of the state and the society». [1] Thus, immediately after the «tragic January» events, the authorities announced the ambitious plan of the new «Kazakhstan perestroyka» (refurbishment) as a sort of «top down revolution» the transition to the era of «the second republic». The big political season started in June 2022 in the format of the national referendum on the amendments to the Constitution. Over 77% of voters having come to the polling stations were for transforming Kazakhstan from super-presidential republic into just a presidential republic with a strong parliament. Then, in November 2022, the extraordinary presidential elections took place. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev not surprisingly won the race with 81% of votes and was elected for the new seven-year term. In January 2023, the elections to Senate (the upper house of parliament) took place, and resulted in substantial renewal of the Senates composition.

Now the renewal will touch upon the lower parliamentary structures the Majilis and maslikhats. Let us emphasize that the extraordinary elections in Kazakhstan will go according to the new rules. Previously, the elections were conducted only by the party lists. Now only 70% of the lower house will be elected in such a way, and the remaining 30% of MPs will be elected in the single-mandate constituencies. At the elections to the regional parliaments, the candidates to be elected based on the party lists and in the single-mandate constituencies will be represented in equal proportion 50:50. The procedure of registration for political parties was significantly simplified: the threshold was decreased four times from 20 thousand to 5 thousand members, the minimal required membership of the regional branches decreased three times from 600 to 200 persons. The voting ballots now will have a new line «none-of-the-above», and the threshold for passing to the Majilis was brought down from 7 to 5%. On top of that, 30% quotas were allocated to women, young people and persons with special needs (the disabled) when distributing the mandates. All that caused the unprecedented political agitation at the stage of nominating candidates for the national and regional parliaments.

According to the Central Elections Commission of Kazakhstan, all 7 political parties having presented their party lists are eligible for participating in the elections; their lists include 283 candidates. The setup is the following: Peoples Party of Kazakhstan 52 candidates; Aq Jol (the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan) 54 candidates; Nationwide Social Democratic Party 19 candidates; Baytaq (Kazakhstan Green Party) 18 candidates; Auyl (Peoples Democratic Patriotic Party) 25 candidates; Respublia Party 25 candidates; Amanat Party 90 candidates. [2] It means that 283 candidates from the party lists will be running for 69 seats in the new Majilis. The competition in the single-mandate constituencies is even tougher: 609 candidates will be running for the remaining 29 seats. Kazakhstan has never seen such an intense competition during the elections before. Previously, the traditional norm was three - five persons per seat, and now in the single-mandate constituencies it is 20 persons per seat like in the theater school. The strongest competition (63 persons per seat) is observed in two districts of Astana (the capital city), the lowest one (8 persons per seat) in the Ulytau district. According to the Central Election Commission, the total number of candidates to the Majilis and maslikhats is 14,207. [2]

Parliamentary old-timers

Among the parliamentary «Magnificent Seven» three experienced parties need to be highlighted, they already have their parliamentary fractions and the experience of election campaigning. The Central Election Commission (CEC) registered as one of the first party lists the list of the Peoples Party of Kazakhstan (PPK), which already has 10 seats in the Majilis. This center-left party has been acting since 2004, and before 2020 it was called the Communist Peoples Party. Today its head is Ermuhamet Ertisbayev, the professional politician, who used to be the Minister of Culture, and the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Georgia, Belarus and CIS. Ertisbayev became famous as the «talking head» and the political advisor to Nazarbayev, and for that he received an ironic nickname of the «Presidents nightingale». Today this experienced politician has given up the old practices and completely reshaped himself. Now Ertisbayev uses the same propagandistic ardor to persuade the public that the situation in the country needs radical change. «Practice shows that the social equality ideas still are very popular. Now it is time to implement them. According to our President, «the era of oligarchs is coming to the end in Kazakhstan», and «we will be building a state with high social responsibility». In our political language it means socialism», Ermuhamet Ertisbayev said at the extraordinary 23rd convention of the PPK. [3] According to the CEC, the PPK list includes 67 candidates (52 as per the lists and 15 from the single-mandate constituencies). Ertisbayev himself is among them along with the party functionaries and former members of the parliament, as well as business community representatives and lawyers; however, the blue collars are not found in the list.

The Aq Jol («Path of Light») center-right party used to have 12 seats in the Majilis, they call themselves the «constructive opposition». It was established in 2002 as a controlled rightist party from the pieces of sometimes radical opposition. Now its head is Azat Peruashev, the former leader of the National Economic Chamber Atameken, who used to be a member of the Political Council of the ruling party Nur Otan. In Kazakhstan the Aq Jol Party is often criticized for the pro-government position and for the imitation of the opposition. «We believe that the country is just in the beginning of systemic transformations, which need to develop the Constitutional reform of our President and promote its implementation into practice», Peruashev stated at the pre-election convention, and then he practically repeated word-for-word the messages of the recent speech by President Tokayev. The new thing on the Aq Jol election agenda is enhancement of the role of parliament and increasing its funding. In addition, Aq Jol is for the rapprochement with the West in the end of January Peruashev stated that Kazakhstan should be following the European development path and strive for the accession to the European Union. Prior to approval of its party lists, Aq Jol excluded Azamat Abildayev from its ranks, who spoke in support of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. Aq Jol nominated 77 candidates (54 as per the lists and 23 from the single-mandate constituencies). Azat Peruashev himself is among them together with the former Majilis members Dania Eslayeva, Berik Dyusembinov, Isa Kazbek and others, as well as representatives of the regional business communities. [4]

The ruling party Amanat is considered to be the front runner of the election race; it used to have an absolute majority in the Majilis 76 seats. Let us remind here that the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev founded this political movement in 1999. At first, it had the name of Otan («Fatherland»), but in 2006 it absorbed many followers and received the new name of Nur Otan («Light of Fatherland»). After the tragic January events Kassym-Jomart Tokayev headed the party, and it was very quickly renamed as Amanat («Testament of the Ancestors»). Soon the incumbent President left the party to keep away from the accumulated negative associations and from all political alliances. Today Erlan Koshanov, an experienced speaker of the Majilis, is the party leader. «We carried out the transformation of the party refusing from valueless promises and slogans. We moved from words to deeds not only on the political field, but in the spheres vital for people. The party has effectively turned into a public backbone for the head of our state, the driver of the reforms being carried out in the country», Koshanov announced at the party convention. Despite some obvious losses connected with the re-branding and the fact of the President leaving the party, Amanat still possesses significant political assets the support of the government and the well-developed network of numerous branches. According to the CEC, this party nominated the biggest number of candidates 3,821 to the maslikhats of all levels and 119 the Majilis (90 as per the lists and 29 from the single-mandate constituencies). They include parliament members, government officials, famous athletes, bloggers and many new faces. According to Koshanov, «the partisan team of the nominees to all representative bodies of the country was renewed by 75%». [5]

Newcomers and underdogs

Regional experts often compared the Majilis structure with the «political trident». The powerful center represented by the ruling party Amanat dominated in the parliament, and Aq Jol and PPK were the right and the left cogs of power assisting in capturing the entire political field with this special «fork». However, the modern request of Ak-Orda for pluralism and multi-party system brought back to life the zombi underdogs and political newcomers. The Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) was always among the lame ducks of Kazakhstan political class; it was established in 2007, claims to be an opposition party and to «consistently work on implementing the values of the global social democratic movement into the political practices of Kazakhstan». One of the key requirements of the party is freezing the sale of land, fair distribution of the natural resources royalties, decreasing the pension age, increasing pensions/salaries/allowances/stipends, creation of new jobs, etc. However, such a bright leftist discourse resulted in very modest political dividend for NSDP. Thus, after the parliamentary elections in 2016, it was only the fifth with a modest result of 1.18% and did not get into the Majilis. NSDP did not take part in the Presidential rase of 2021, and during the recent extraordinary elections of 2022, its candidate Nurland Auesbayev gathered 2.22% of votes. This opposition party reacted rather wearily to the current election campaign. It presented the list of only 19 candidates including the new party leader Ashat Rakhimzhanov, and 6 more people will represent it participating in the elections the single-mandate constituencies within the majority voting system. [6]

Auyl («Village») party is often called another political underdog. Judging by its name, it was established (back in 2002) to reflect the interests of the village dwellers and promote the agrarian sector development. Since the date it was established, this party has been stable in showing the poor results during all the election campaigns (significantly below the electoral threshold). Regional analysts believe this is associated with the fact that the votes for Auyl party come mainly from cities, from the former village dwellers out of nostalgic feelings. While as real workers in the fields and on the farms are quite pragmatically selecting the ruling party Amanat, which has all the required resources and capabilities to support agriculture. The current leader of Auyl party is Ali Bektayev, the senator, understands that and places the bet on prominent political figures. That is why the party list includes two ex-candidates of the previous presidential race Zhiguly Dairabayev and Karakat Abden. Zhiguly Dairabayev, the Chairman of the Kazakhstan Farmers Association, gathered 3.5% votes and was the second, probably, due to his eye-catching name. Karakat Abden, a bright feminist, became famous after publishing her scandalous book about the sexual life of Kazakh women; she received 2.6% votes and was the third. According to the CEC, Auyl presented a list of 34 candidates (25 as per the lists and 9 from the single-mandate constituencies). They include party functionaries, representatives of research community and mass-media, as well of the agrarian business community. [7]

The political newcomer the Baytaq («Many») environmental party is close on the heels of the archaic Auyl. It was registered right before the election campaign, in November 2022. The main objectives of this party are protecting flora and fauna, preserving the bio-diversity, implementing the principles of sustainable use of natural resources. The Bayaqs slogan during this extraordinary election campaign is «Change the policy of environmental responsibility in the country». This new project may become quite attractive: the recent news is that Aizhan Skakova, a well-known ecologist and a former MP, left the Peoples Party and joined the green party Baytaq. According to the CEC, Baytaq presented a list of 24 candidates (20 as per the lists and 4 from the single-mandate constituencies), including four as per the female quota, one as per the youth quota, and one as per the disabled quota. The analysts note that the Baytaq party, similar to Respublica, another new party, will be participating in the elections to maslikhats across the entire territory of Kazakhstan. Previously, it was said that Baytaq will have to participate in these elections only in the limited number of territories due to the absence of the branch offices. Such unprecedented loyalty on behalf of the CEC may be explained by the fact that Ak-Orda is interested in the success of these new political projects. [8]

The Respublica party will be another newcomer, it was urgently registered in January 2023. Behind the scenes, it is called a new administrative project of the business-party, or even the Kazakh clone of the Russian «New People» party. The perseverance of the Presidents Administration in creating a series of the right-liberal parties similar to the «Right Cause» or the «Party of Growth» is quite pragmatic. It allows for channeling the discontent of the business circles, to shut-off the cash flows from uncontrollable political projects and for having a convenient tribune for proposing unpopular measures. By the way, one of the leaders of the new party Beybit Alikbekov openly stated that one of their objectives was to support Tokayevs reforms. Aydarbek Khodzhanazarov, the head of the agricultural holding OLZHA AGRO, is believed to be the founder of the Respublica party. Young entrepreneurs and prominent heads of various holdings are members of the party leadership, and one of the co-chairs is a popular showman Nurlan Koyanbayev. The party resented a list of 29 candidates to the Majilis (25 as per the lists and 4 from the single-mandate constituencies). It is believed that the new party will become a political competitor to the Aq Jol now resting of the laurels. [9]

Chances for winning

What are the chances of the Magnificent Seven for winning the elections? And do the Kazakh citizens really need such political diversity? As per the outcomes of the recent survey by the Public Opinion Institute, the majority of citizens of Kazakhstan are advocates of political pluralism and the multi-party Majilis. Almost one third (27.8%) of the respondents would like to see five or more parties in the Majilis, 6.6% would like to see four parties, 16.8% three parties, and 12% two parties. According to the survey, more than half of the citizens intend to vote at the parliamentary elections. However, in the proposed party menu there are some obvious preferences. «48.6% of those who intend to vote at the extraordinary parliamentary election are strongly inclined to support the Amanat party candidates. According to the survey, such parties as Auyl and Aq Jol have all the chances to overcome the 5% threshold (6.2% and 5.4% respectively). Other parties still need to enlist the support of voters: PPK (4.8%), Respublica (3.6%), NSDP (3.2%), Baytaq (2.8%). The share of the respondents planning to vote for «none-of-the-above» made 2.6%. Over one fifth of the respondents (22.8%) have not yet defined their partisan preference», the Public Opinion Institute claims. As we can see, in the very beginning of the campaign the ruling party Amanat has a noticeable handicap vs its adversaries. [10]

In the opinion of Eduard Poletayev, the political analyst from Kazakhstan, the chances of the political newcomers Baytaq and Respublika to attenuate the standard mix of the parliamentary forces are minimal. The new parties were registered quite recently, and they simply do not have enough time and resources to fully get prepared for the extraordinary parliamentary elections. In addition, the leaders of the new parties are not very well known among the political class. On the other side, according to Poletayev, this campaign will allow for the newcomers to become assertive and to pitch it strong in future. Their niches have good potential environment and real business. Nevertheless, despite decreasing the threshold from 7 to 5%, the chances of these newcomers are not really big, the expert emphasizes. The ruling party Amanat is quite another thing it is represented across the entire country, its membership is above 700 thousand people, and it has very strong staff. With account of its traditional voters, Amanat in any case will get the required majority. The chances of the Peoples Party are not bad either, as it has sufficient support of the average citizens. Eventually, the political analyst assumes that in the new Majilis we will see the representatives of at least four parties. [11]

According to the forecast of Andrei Chebotarev, another political analyst from Kazakhstan, 4-5 parties may be represented in the new Majilis of the 8th convocation. «Some of them will get the seats due to the support of voters in the single-mandate constituencies», the expert says. In his opinion, high level of competition in electoral districts will be the most prominent feature of this campaign. The risk of disunity of the protest voters is rather high, as there are too many candidates representing the opposition, so their chances to get into the parliament go down. On the other hand, such intense competition is in favor of the candidates who are loyal to the government. «During the campaign we are to expect the growth of populist statements and slogans. They may be used by the newcomers in the interests of their potential voters», the analyst believes. According to Andrei Chebotarev, he is more interested in watching the newcomers among all the seven political parties campaigning for the parliamentary seats the green party Baytaq and not very well-known Respublica. The «newcomers effect» may help these parties to assert themselves due to the fact of the voters being tired from the old-timers. [12]

One may agree with the opinion of the regional experts, who have been studying the electoral processes in Kazakhstan for many years. The election campaign is interested and intense. The parties are especially focused on the lists, so the relevancy of their political programs will be playing an important role. There is a strong society demand in Kazakhstan for social justice, professionalism of the public servants, economic well-being, and of course for security. The party able to hit precisely these accumulated expectations of the voters will get noticeable support during the elections.

The campaign is rather complicated for the independent candidates, but they will really be in the focus of the voters and experts. However, in our opinion, their role in this campaign is to a certain extent overestimated. Firstly, only 30% of all the seats in the Majilis are allocated to the single-mandate constituencies, so individual heroes will not really make a difference. Secondly, the self-nominees have a lot of problems: insufficient resources and experience, intense competition and the «none-of-the-above» line in the voting ballot. During the recent presidential elections, this line was in the center of attention of the voters. Thirdly, the ruling party of Kazakhstan may apply the successful strategy of the Russian party United Russia. It consists in nominating a big number of strong candidates with resources, well-known names and support by the local authorities in the single-mandate constituencies. And after the election to co-opt some independent single-mandate candidates into the ranks of their party fraction. This will allow the ruling party Amanat to maintain its control over the new Majilis.

1. The triumph of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and re-start of political system in Kazakhstan. Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 21.11.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/triumfalnaya-pobeda-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva-i-restart-politicheskoj-sistemy-kazahstana-38384.shtml

2.  On nominating the candidates and accreditation of international observers. Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 09.02.2023. https://www.election.gov.kz/rus/news/releases/index.php?ID=8434

3. PPK approved the election program. KAZINFORM, 30.01.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/npk-utverdila-predvybornuyu-programmu_a4029507

4. Aq Jol in wait for change. Vlast.kz, 02.02.2023. https://vlast.kz/politika/53720-ak-zol-v-ozidanii-peremen.html

5. The AMANAT list of candidates was renewed by 75% Erlan Koshanov. KAZINFORM, 07.02.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/spisok-kandidatov-amanat-obnovilsya-na-75-erlan-koshanov_a4032579

6. The list of NSDP candidates is now published. KAZINFORM, 02.02.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/izvesten-spisok-kandidatov-v-deputaty-ot-osdp_a4030824

7. Auyl presented its list of candidates. Zakon.kz, 04.02.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/6383427-partiya-auyl-vydvinula-spisok-kandidatov-na-vybory.html

8. Baytaq announced its list of candidates to the Majilis. Zakon.kz, 03.02.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/6383334-baytak-obyavila-partiynyy-spisok-kandidatov-v-mazhilis.html

9. Respublica published its list of candidates to the Majilis. Turantimes.kz, 06.02.2023. https://turantimes.kz/politika/40868-partija-respublica-opublikovala-spisok-kandidatov-v-mazhilis.html

10. Kazakhstan citizens took part in the telephone survey about the parliamentary elections. Turantimes.kz, 30.01.2023. https://turantimes.kz/obschestvo/40664-kazahstancy-prinjali-uchastie-v-telefonnom-oprose-o-parlamentskih-vyborah.html

11. Four parties out of seven may get seats in the Majilis in 2023 Poletayev. Global News, 27.01.2023. https://globalnews.kz/v-parlament-2023-goda-mogut-popast-4-partii-iz-7-poletaev/

12. Political analyst: the 2023 election campaign will go under the sign of non-partisan and independent candidates. BaigeNews.kz, 09.02.2013. https://baigenews.kz/politolog-izbiratelnaya-kampaniya-2023-goda-proydyot-pod-znakom-bespartiynyh-i-samovydvizhentsev_147093/

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

How will the new face of «the New Kazakhstan» look like to be determined by the parliamentary elections

photo: inbusiness.kz
20 2023

Political fever

The preparation for the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan has entered into its conclusive phase. Let us remind here, that the voting will take place on 19 March 2023, and it will determine the composition of the Majilis (the lower house of parliament) and the structure of maslikhats (regional parliaments) for the next five years. However, early February was an unusually hot period for the traditionally drowsy Kazakhstan political class. The political parties conducted their extraordinary conventions, approved the election campaigning plans and nominated candidates for participating in the elections. And no wonder they were in such rush: on 8 February the Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan finished the acceptance of documents from the candidates and started registration of the party lists. This analysis is dedicated to description of the parties claiming for determining the «political face» of «the New Kazakhstan», their program statements and their chances to win in the race.

We already wrote earlier that the next extraordinary parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan represent the final stage of this multi-tier election cycle initiated by Ak Orda. According to the statement of the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the refurbished Kazakhstan «is migrating to the new state model, the new format of the interface of the state and the society». [1] Thus, immediately after the «tragic January» events, the authorities announced the ambitious plan of the new «Kazakhstan perestroyka» (refurbishment) as a sort of «top down revolution» the transition to the era of «the second republic». The big political season started in June 2022 in the format of the national referendum on the amendments to the Constitution. Over 77% of voters having come to the polling stations were for transforming Kazakhstan from super-presidential republic into just a presidential republic with a strong parliament. Then, in November 2022, the extraordinary presidential elections took place. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev not surprisingly won the race with 81% of votes and was elected for the new seven-year term. In January 2023, the elections to Senate (the upper house of parliament) took place, and resulted in substantial renewal of the Senates composition.

Now the renewal will touch upon the lower parliamentary structures the Majilis and maslikhats. Let us emphasize that the extraordinary elections in Kazakhstan will go according to the new rules. Previously, the elections were conducted only by the party lists. Now only 70% of the lower house will be elected in such a way, and the remaining 30% of MPs will be elected in the single-mandate constituencies. At the elections to the regional parliaments, the candidates to be elected based on the party lists and in the single-mandate constituencies will be represented in equal proportion 50:50. The procedure of registration for political parties was significantly simplified: the threshold was decreased four times from 20 thousand to 5 thousand members, the minimal required membership of the regional branches decreased three times from 600 to 200 persons. The voting ballots now will have a new line «none-of-the-above», and the threshold for passing to the Majilis was brought down from 7 to 5%. On top of that, 30% quotas were allocated to women, young people and persons with special needs (the disabled) when distributing the mandates. All that caused the unprecedented political agitation at the stage of nominating candidates for the national and regional parliaments.

According to the Central Elections Commission of Kazakhstan, all 7 political parties having presented their party lists are eligible for participating in the elections; their lists include 283 candidates. The setup is the following: Peoples Party of Kazakhstan 52 candidates; Aq Jol (the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan) 54 candidates; Nationwide Social Democratic Party 19 candidates; Baytaq (Kazakhstan Green Party) 18 candidates; Auyl (Peoples Democratic Patriotic Party) 25 candidates; Respublia Party 25 candidates; Amanat Party 90 candidates. [2] It means that 283 candidates from the party lists will be running for 69 seats in the new Majilis. The competition in the single-mandate constituencies is even tougher: 609 candidates will be running for the remaining 29 seats. Kazakhstan has never seen such an intense competition during the elections before. Previously, the traditional norm was three - five persons per seat, and now in the single-mandate constituencies it is 20 persons per seat like in the theater school. The strongest competition (63 persons per seat) is observed in two districts of Astana (the capital city), the lowest one (8 persons per seat) in the Ulytau district. According to the Central Election Commission, the total number of candidates to the Majilis and maslikhats is 14,207. [2]

Parliamentary old-timers

Among the parliamentary «Magnificent Seven» three experienced parties need to be highlighted, they already have their parliamentary fractions and the experience of election campaigning. The Central Election Commission (CEC) registered as one of the first party lists the list of the Peoples Party of Kazakhstan (PPK), which already has 10 seats in the Majilis. This center-left party has been acting since 2004, and before 2020 it was called the Communist Peoples Party. Today its head is Ermuhamet Ertisbayev, the professional politician, who used to be the Minister of Culture, and the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Georgia, Belarus and CIS. Ertisbayev became famous as the «talking head» and the political advisor to Nazarbayev, and for that he received an ironic nickname of the «Presidents nightingale». Today this experienced politician has given up the old practices and completely reshaped himself. Now Ertisbayev uses the same propagandistic ardor to persuade the public that the situation in the country needs radical change. «Practice shows that the social equality ideas still are very popular. Now it is time to implement them. According to our President, «the era of oligarchs is coming to the end in Kazakhstan», and «we will be building a state with high social responsibility». In our political language it means socialism», Ermuhamet Ertisbayev said at the extraordinary 23rd convention of the PPK. [3] According to the CEC, the PPK list includes 67 candidates (52 as per the lists and 15 from the single-mandate constituencies). Ertisbayev himself is among them along with the party functionaries and former members of the parliament, as well as business community representatives and lawyers; however, the blue collars are not found in the list.

The Aq Jol («Path of Light») center-right party used to have 12 seats in the Majilis, they call themselves the «constructive opposition». It was established in 2002 as a controlled rightist party from the pieces of sometimes radical opposition. Now its head is Azat Peruashev, the former leader of the National Economic Chamber Atameken, who used to be a member of the Political Council of the ruling party Nur Otan. In Kazakhstan the Aq Jol Party is often criticized for the pro-government position and for the imitation of the opposition. «We believe that the country is just in the beginning of systemic transformations, which need to develop the Constitutional reform of our President and promote its implementation into practice», Peruashev stated at the pre-election convention, and then he practically repeated word-for-word the messages of the recent speech by President Tokayev. The new thing on the Aq Jol election agenda is enhancement of the role of parliament and increasing its funding. In addition, Aq Jol is for the rapprochement with the West in the end of January Peruashev stated that Kazakhstan should be following the European development path and strive for the accession to the European Union. Prior to approval of its party lists, Aq Jol excluded Azamat Abildayev from its ranks, who spoke in support of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. Aq Jol nominated 77 candidates (54 as per the lists and 23 from the single-mandate constituencies). Azat Peruashev himself is among them together with the former Majilis members Dania Eslayeva, Berik Dyusembinov, Isa Kazbek and others, as well as representatives of the regional business communities. [4]

The ruling party Amanat is considered to be the front runner of the election race; it used to have an absolute majority in the Majilis 76 seats. Let us remind here that the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev founded this political movement in 1999. At first, it had the name of Otan («Fatherland»), but in 2006 it absorbed many followers and received the new name of Nur Otan («Light of Fatherland»). After the tragic January events Kassym-Jomart Tokayev headed the party, and it was very quickly renamed as Amanat («Testament of the Ancestors»). Soon the incumbent President left the party to keep away from the accumulated negative associations and from all political alliances. Today Erlan Koshanov, an experienced speaker of the Majilis, is the party leader. «We carried out the transformation of the party refusing from valueless promises and slogans. We moved from words to deeds not only on the political field, but in the spheres vital for people. The party has effectively turned into a public backbone for the head of our state, the driver of the reforms being carried out in the country», Koshanov announced at the party convention. Despite some obvious losses connected with the re-branding and the fact of the President leaving the party, Amanat still possesses significant political assets the support of the government and the well-developed network of numerous branches. According to the CEC, this party nominated the biggest number of candidates 3,821 to the maslikhats of all levels and 119 the Majilis (90 as per the lists and 29 from the single-mandate constituencies). They include parliament members, government officials, famous athletes, bloggers and many new faces. According to Koshanov, «the partisan team of the nominees to all representative bodies of the country was renewed by 75%». [5]

Newcomers and underdogs

Regional experts often compared the Majilis structure with the «political trident». The powerful center represented by the ruling party Amanat dominated in the parliament, and Aq Jol and PPK were the right and the left cogs of power assisting in capturing the entire political field with this special «fork». However, the modern request of Ak-Orda for pluralism and multi-party system brought back to life the zombi underdogs and political newcomers. The Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) was always among the lame ducks of Kazakhstan political class; it was established in 2007, claims to be an opposition party and to «consistently work on implementing the values of the global social democratic movement into the political practices of Kazakhstan». One of the key requirements of the party is freezing the sale of land, fair distribution of the natural resources royalties, decreasing the pension age, increasing pensions/salaries/allowances/stipends, creation of new jobs, etc. However, such a bright leftist discourse resulted in very modest political dividend for NSDP. Thus, after the parliamentary elections in 2016, it was only the fifth with a modest result of 1.18% and did not get into the Majilis. NSDP did not take part in the Presidential rase of 2021, and during the recent extraordinary elections of 2022, its candidate Nurland Auesbayev gathered 2.22% of votes. This opposition party reacted rather wearily to the current election campaign. It presented the list of only 19 candidates including the new party leader Ashat Rakhimzhanov, and 6 more people will represent it participating in the elections the single-mandate constituencies within the majority voting system. [6]

Auyl («Village») party is often called another political underdog. Judging by its name, it was established (back in 2002) to reflect the interests of the village dwellers and promote the agrarian sector development. Since the date it was established, this party has been stable in showing the poor results during all the election campaigns (significantly below the electoral threshold). Regional analysts believe this is associated with the fact that the votes for Auyl party come mainly from cities, from the former village dwellers out of nostalgic feelings. While as real workers in the fields and on the farms are quite pragmatically selecting the ruling party Amanat, which has all the required resources and capabilities to support agriculture. The current leader of Auyl party is Ali Bektayev, the senator, understands that and places the bet on prominent political figures. That is why the party list includes two ex-candidates of the previous presidential race Zhiguly Dairabayev and Karakat Abden. Zhiguly Dairabayev, the Chairman of the Kazakhstan Farmers Association, gathered 3.5% votes and was the second, probably, due to his eye-catching name. Karakat Abden, a bright feminist, became famous after publishing her scandalous book about the sexual life of Kazakh women; she received 2.6% votes and was the third. According to the CEC, Auyl presented a list of 34 candidates (25 as per the lists and 9 from the single-mandate constituencies). They include party functionaries, representatives of research community and mass-media, as well of the agrarian business community. [7]

The political newcomer the Baytaq («Many») environmental party is close on the heels of the archaic Auyl. It was registered right before the election campaign, in November 2022. The main objectives of this party are protecting flora and fauna, preserving the bio-diversity, implementing the principles of sustainable use of natural resources. The Bayaqs slogan during this extraordinary election campaign is «Change the policy of environmental responsibility in the country». This new project may become quite attractive: the recent news is that Aizhan Skakova, a well-known ecologist and a former MP, left the Peoples Party and joined the green party Baytaq. According to the CEC, Baytaq presented a list of 24 candidates (20 as per the lists and 4 from the single-mandate constituencies), including four as per the female quota, one as per the youth quota, and one as per the disabled quota. The analysts note that the Baytaq party, similar to Respublica, another new party, will be participating in the elections to maslikhats across the entire territory of Kazakhstan. Previously, it was said that Baytaq will have to participate in these elections only in the limited number of territories due to the absence of the branch offices. Such unprecedented loyalty on behalf of the CEC may be explained by the fact that Ak-Orda is interested in the success of these new political projects. [8]

The Respublica party will be another newcomer, it was urgently registered in January 2023. Behind the scenes, it is called a new administrative project of the business-party, or even the Kazakh clone of the Russian «New People» party. The perseverance of the Presidents Administration in creating a series of the right-liberal parties similar to the «Right Cause» or the «Party of Growth» is quite pragmatic. It allows for channeling the discontent of the business circles, to shut-off the cash flows from uncontrollable political projects and for having a convenient tribune for proposing unpopular measures. By the way, one of the leaders of the new party Beybit Alikbekov openly stated that one of their objectives was to support Tokayevs reforms. Aydarbek Khodzhanazarov, the head of the agricultural holding OLZHA AGRO, is believed to be the founder of the Respublica party. Young entrepreneurs and prominent heads of various holdings are members of the party leadership, and one of the co-chairs is a popular showman Nurlan Koyanbayev. The party resented a list of 29 candidates to the Majilis (25 as per the lists and 4 from the single-mandate constituencies). It is believed that the new party will become a political competitor to the Aq Jol now resting of the laurels. [9]

Chances for winning

What are the chances of the Magnificent Seven for winning the elections? And do the Kazakh citizens really need such political diversity? As per the outcomes of the recent survey by the Public Opinion Institute, the majority of citizens of Kazakhstan are advocates of political pluralism and the multi-party Majilis. Almost one third (27.8%) of the respondents would like to see five or more parties in the Majilis, 6.6% would like to see four parties, 16.8% three parties, and 12% two parties. According to the survey, more than half of the citizens intend to vote at the parliamentary elections. However, in the proposed party menu there are some obvious preferences. «48.6% of those who intend to vote at the extraordinary parliamentary election are strongly inclined to support the Amanat party candidates. According to the survey, such parties as Auyl and Aq Jol have all the chances to overcome the 5% threshold (6.2% and 5.4% respectively). Other parties still need to enlist the support of voters: PPK (4.8%), Respublica (3.6%), NSDP (3.2%), Baytaq (2.8%). The share of the respondents planning to vote for «none-of-the-above» made 2.6%. Over one fifth of the respondents (22.8%) have not yet defined their partisan preference», the Public Opinion Institute claims. As we can see, in the very beginning of the campaign the ruling party Amanat has a noticeable handicap vs its adversaries. [10]

In the opinion of Eduard Poletayev, the political analyst from Kazakhstan, the chances of the political newcomers Baytaq and Respublika to attenuate the standard mix of the parliamentary forces are minimal. The new parties were registered quite recently, and they simply do not have enough time and resources to fully get prepared for the extraordinary parliamentary elections. In addition, the leaders of the new parties are not very well known among the political class. On the other side, according to Poletayev, this campaign will allow for the newcomers to become assertive and to pitch it strong in future. Their niches have good potential environment and real business. Nevertheless, despite decreasing the threshold from 7 to 5%, the chances of these newcomers are not really big, the expert emphasizes. The ruling party Amanat is quite another thing it is represented across the entire country, its membership is above 700 thousand people, and it has very strong staff. With account of its traditional voters, Amanat in any case will get the required majority. The chances of the Peoples Party are not bad either, as it has sufficient support of the average citizens. Eventually, the political analyst assumes that in the new Majilis we will see the representatives of at least four parties. [11]

According to the forecast of Andrei Chebotarev, another political analyst from Kazakhstan, 4-5 parties may be represented in the new Majilis of the 8th convocation. «Some of them will get the seats due to the support of voters in the single-mandate constituencies», the expert says. In his opinion, high level of competition in electoral districts will be the most prominent feature of this campaign. The risk of disunity of the protest voters is rather high, as there are too many candidates representing the opposition, so their chances to get into the parliament go down. On the other hand, such intense competition is in favor of the candidates who are loyal to the government. «During the campaign we are to expect the growth of populist statements and slogans. They may be used by the newcomers in the interests of their potential voters», the analyst believes. According to Andrei Chebotarev, he is more interested in watching the newcomers among all the seven political parties campaigning for the parliamentary seats the green party Baytaq and not very well-known Respublica. The «newcomers effect» may help these parties to assert themselves due to the fact of the voters being tired from the old-timers. [12]

One may agree with the opinion of the regional experts, who have been studying the electoral processes in Kazakhstan for many years. The election campaign is interested and intense. The parties are especially focused on the lists, so the relevancy of their political programs will be playing an important role. There is a strong society demand in Kazakhstan for social justice, professionalism of the public servants, economic well-being, and of course for security. The party able to hit precisely these accumulated expectations of the voters will get noticeable support during the elections.

The campaign is rather complicated for the independent candidates, but they will really be in the focus of the voters and experts. However, in our opinion, their role in this campaign is to a certain extent overestimated. Firstly, only 30% of all the seats in the Majilis are allocated to the single-mandate constituencies, so individual heroes will not really make a difference. Secondly, the self-nominees have a lot of problems: insufficient resources and experience, intense competition and the «none-of-the-above» line in the voting ballot. During the recent presidential elections, this line was in the center of attention of the voters. Thirdly, the ruling party of Kazakhstan may apply the successful strategy of the Russian party United Russia. It consists in nominating a big number of strong candidates with resources, well-known names and support by the local authorities in the single-mandate constituencies. And after the election to co-opt some independent single-mandate candidates into the ranks of their party fraction. This will allow the ruling party Amanat to maintain its control over the new Majilis.

1. The triumph of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and re-start of political system in Kazakhstan. Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 21.11.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/triumfalnaya-pobeda-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva-i-restart-politicheskoj-sistemy-kazahstana-38384.shtml

2.  On nominating the candidates and accreditation of international observers. Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 09.02.2023. https://www.election.gov.kz/rus/news/releases/index.php?ID=8434

3. PPK approved the election program. KAZINFORM, 30.01.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/npk-utverdila-predvybornuyu-programmu_a4029507

4. Aq Jol in wait for change. Vlast.kz, 02.02.2023. https://vlast.kz/politika/53720-ak-zol-v-ozidanii-peremen.html

5. The AMANAT list of candidates was renewed by 75% Erlan Koshanov. KAZINFORM, 07.02.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/spisok-kandidatov-amanat-obnovilsya-na-75-erlan-koshanov_a4032579

6. The list of NSDP candidates is now published. KAZINFORM, 02.02.2023. https://www.inform.kz/ru/izvesten-spisok-kandidatov-v-deputaty-ot-osdp_a4030824

7. Auyl presented its list of candidates. Zakon.kz, 04.02.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/6383427-partiya-auyl-vydvinula-spisok-kandidatov-na-vybory.html

8. Baytaq announced its list of candidates to the Majilis. Zakon.kz, 03.02.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/6383334-baytak-obyavila-partiynyy-spisok-kandidatov-v-mazhilis.html

9. Respublica published its list of candidates to the Majilis. Turantimes.kz, 06.02.2023. https://turantimes.kz/politika/40868-partija-respublica-opublikovala-spisok-kandidatov-v-mazhilis.html

10. Kazakhstan citizens took part in the telephone survey about the parliamentary elections. Turantimes.kz, 30.01.2023. https://turantimes.kz/obschestvo/40664-kazahstancy-prinjali-uchastie-v-telefonnom-oprose-o-parlamentskih-vyborah.html

11. Four parties out of seven may get seats in the Majilis in 2023 Poletayev. Global News, 27.01.2023. https://globalnews.kz/v-parlament-2023-goda-mogut-popast-4-partii-iz-7-poletaev/

12. Political analyst: the 2023 election campaign will go under the sign of non-partisan and independent candidates. BaigeNews.kz, 09.02.2013. https://baigenews.kz/politolog-izbiratelnaya-kampaniya-2023-goda-proydyot-pod-znakom-bespartiynyh-i-samovydvizhentsev_147093/