Exiled Banker’s Attempt to Shake Up Kazakh Elections Falls Flat

When fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov tried to inject intrigue into Kazakhstan’s predictable parliamentary elections by endorsing an opposition group, the party he backed announced a boycott of Sunday’s vote.

Five parties remain in the first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took over the presidency in 2019 from leader-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Exiled Banker’s Attempt to Shake Up Kazakh Elections Falls Flat

After he became president, Tokayev promised a “political transformation of society” to engage a generation that has no memory of the central Asian nation’s Soviet past. In a June 2019 interview, he described his “vision” of bolstering the multiparty system and making parliament more influential.

Minority parties have the right to initiate hearings under legislation approved last year, which also ensures one can chair a permanent committee. But the backing of Ablyazov, who’s accused of embezzling about $6 billion from BTA Bank JSC when he chaired it, led the National Social Democratic Party, or OSDP, to forfeit that chance.

“Association with Ablyazov, considered a toxic figure by the regime, would have likely incurred the wrath of the security services against the OSDP’s leadership,” said, Kate Mallinson, an analyst at Prism consultancy in London.

Ablyazov is seeking to copy the so-called smart voting strategy popularized by anti-Kremlin activists in Russia to chip into the ruling party’s overwhelming majority.

Nur Otan, headed by Nazarbayev, holds 84 of 98 elected seats in the lower house of parliament, the Majilis, after sweeping the 2016 elections and is expected to dominate the vote on Sunday.

Ak Zhol, a pro-government party that Ablyazov has urged his supporters to favor after OSDP withdrew in November, and the communist People’s Party each hold seven seats in the Majilis. There are also nine appointed seats to represent ethnic minorities.

Kazakhstan’s economy was forecast to have shrunk at least 2.5% in 2020, the first annual contraction in more than two decades for central Asia’s largest energy producer, due to low oil prices and lockdowns to fight the spread of Covid-19.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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