Elections in Kazakhstan: New Anti-Record in Turnout and Unexpected Сomposition of the Parliament

March 20, 2023

On March 19, the elections to Mazhilis of the Parliament and Maslikhats were held in Kazakhstan. The main difference of the elections was, firstly, the nomination of deputies from single-mandate districts and, secondly, the introduction of the column ‘Against All’ in the ballot papers. Another significant difference was a record low turnout - 54.19%. By comparison, in the presidential election of 2022 the turnout was 69.44%. The low turnout can be explained by the distrust of citizens in the political parties of the country. This was stated by political analyst Daniyar Ashimbaev in his interview to ia-centr.ru.

- What was new in the last elections to the Mazhilis and Maslikhats, and were they, in your opinion, fair, transparent and open?
- Honesty is the concept of stretching. Everyone considers elections honest as long as they are won. As for novelty, the emergence of a mixed model was something new.

After all, there have been no single-member district elections for more than 20 years, and people and parties are no longer accustomed to them. And such a scheme caused an influx of candidates. At the same time, it is clear that the turnout has fallen significantly in comparison with even the last election. The competition was quite strong, but at the same time in the single-mandate districts, in spite of the large number of candidates, in almost none of the districts there was a clear leader.

Of course, it is worth waiting for the official results, but the course of the election campaign itself demonstrated that no unambiguous figures, who would have enjoyed authority with the population, had a high rating and would have been able to mobilize the electorate for a turnout, had been found in the country.

At the same time I would like to pay attention that quite a few people, belonging, in fact, to one camp - the opposition public did not make attempts to organize any pre-election unions or to withdraw their candidacies in favor of each other. That is, all literally rushed, pushing each other with their shoulders.

Of course, there were and will be certain violations, such as the traditional ones, when the head of the family was entrusted to vote for the whole family, and attempts to manipulate the results. But all these violations are mainly related to the elections of deputies of maslikhats.

And here, in my opinion, it is hardly a matter of order by the authorities for a particular result; rather, the matter is that in the regions big businessmen and local bosses, who have both administrative resources and financial opportunities were big enough to stimulate territorial election commissions (TECs), tried to get into the maslikhats. In Almaty, a large number of developers, contractors of akimats, managers of quasi-sector, that is, all those who are used to sit in maslikhats and solve their vital issues through them.

- There are no official results yet, but there are already first data of exit-poll...
- Yes, they usually give a general picture and coincide with the official final results.

- Were these results surprising to you, or are they as you expected?
- The order I expected a little different, but given the low turnout, it is within the margin of error. The victory of the Amanat party with over 50% was obvious. The party managed to get a majority, with a new name and a new leader.

It should be understood that Nur Otan (the former name of Amanat) has always gone to the elections as the party of the ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev. That is with an element of sacredness which ensured its victory. This time the President distanced himself from the party, plus, as I already spoke the new name and new leadership, and in addition the stormy events of the last months have created a certain mess.

But Amanat managed to pull out this election: experience, as they say, is not lost. Let's look at the situation in single-seat constituencies, because it is known that Amanat has nominated its candidates to Mazhilis and Maslikhats in all constituencies. But because of the confusing information with the withdrawal of candidates by decision of TECs and courts to see the full picture is not yet possible. However, to all appearances, in spite of the fact that a significant number of candidates withdrew from Amanat, in some regions the party can get from a quarter to a third of deputy seats in single-seat constituencies and ensure its majority.

The high result of the Auyl party was unexpected. However, the party has been pulling ahead for a long time. Most likely, it is connected to the fact that Amanat was not the only party in power, and in Auyl appeared many local business and regional elites, which didn't find place for themselves in Amanat and other parties.

The Auyl party became in essence the same Amanat, but less loyalist. An unexpected alternative to Amanat appeared, which at first was not taken seriously, since Auyl had always been in the outsiders. And I think that the party itself did not expect such results.

The Respublica party came in third place, according to exit polls. Their campaign was quite weak, but apparently the novelty effect played a role. Because it is quite difficult to position them as a right-wing party.

- But the Baytaq party, too, had a novelty effect, but for some reason they didn't take off. Judging by exit polls, they could not overcome even the 5% threshold to enter the Mazhilis.

- Baytaq Green Party turned out to be something incomprehensible. It's not the first time the environmentalists are running for office. An evident example is Mels Eleusizov; he ran for all levels from maslikhat to the president more than 20 times, but was never elected anywhere. This time he was on the Baytaq list, and he must have extended his karma to it. The Greens haven't been able to position themselves well.

The same National Social Democratic Party (NSDP) did not trumpet the popular topic of social protection, but focused more on the fact that it is an opposition party, but could not explain to the electorate what it wanted. Environmentalists, too: there was a lot of slogans and little specificity. And people would like to see the whole set of promises, in addition to ecology.

- On last elections, besides Amanat, the People's Party of Kazakhstan and Aq Jol party won convincingly. In these elections, they sagged significantly, losing even to a newcomer, the Respublica Party. What is it connected with?
- By turnout and by rating the weariness of the population from traditional political institutes is visible, on the one hand. On the other hand, the electorate of Amanat, PPK and Aq Jol remained, but decreased.

Yes, all three parties have entered the Mazhilis, but the cumulative fall of the three parties, at a rough guess, amounted to 25% of voters having left for the other parties. This is a wake-up call.

In addition, the reason may be that part of the traditional electorate did not go to the elections: if the turnout was higher, it is possible, there would be other results. That is, there is a weariness with the old parties and a desire for change. Not even so much change as new faces.

For example, the same the PPK changed its management. But to call Ermukhamet Ertysbaev a new face is quite difficult. In fact, the PPK moved forward with the old stuff, on the merits of Vladislav Kosarev and Aikyn Konurov. There was no novelty. That is why its indicators are close to critical.
As for Aq Jol, Respublica and Baytaq rushed into its field. Secondly, though the party has played competently in campaign, but the effect of population fatigue was reflected on it: the part of its electorate has gone to others, and the other part simply did not come to elections. Besides, Aq Jol was a little too much with national-patriotic topics. Remember Abildaev, who was expelled from the party, which probably pushed away some part of the internationalist electorate from Aq Jol. Of course, I expected Aq Jol to gain more, and PPK less. But in general, the results coincide with the expectations.

- And what explains the low turnout? Because the population is running out of credit for a new president and new reforms, or something else?
- Reforms are connected with the head of state. And confidence in the parties has been undermined for many years. In addition the Parliament not so long ago was solemnly re-elected; the maslikhats of the past convocations were not seen at all. Many of those public figures, who rushed to Mazhilis, could have been elected to Maslikhats more successfully and gained points there. And it would bring much more benefit to regions. But all of them rushed to Mazhilis.

- Judging by the preliminary results, which will hardly differ much from the official final results, should we expect something new from the new parliament?

- The parliament will remain pluralistic. The only question is, will Amanat get a full majority? It all depends on the outcome of the elections in single-mandate districts.

In any case, I think, we'll get a generally constructive Mazhilis, but with a more critical attitude. The newcomers, who got their seats in parliament, will start scoring points at the expense of harsh criticism, first of all, of the Government.

Besides the traditional consideration of the report of the Government and the Audit Chamber on the budget of last year is on the eve, which always causes a great tension within the walls of the Parliament. Plus the consideration of the bill on administrative reform, which is also quite controversial. Therefore, I think Parliament will work heatedly. But much depends on the speaker who will lead this work.

- And what about changing the Cabinet of Ministers?
- Well, the government must resign before the new Mazhilis. As for the composition of the new government, in my opinion, the most likely contenders for the post of prime minister would be the current prime minister Alikhan Smailov, first deputy prime minister Roman Sklyar and chairman of Amanat Erlan Koshanov, although the latter is likely to become speaker again. With his political experience and weight it will be much easier for him to consolidate the majority than another candidate for speaker. Moreover, the deputy corps in Amanat was renewed. And almost all of them are newcomers with no experience in parliament. And who, if not him, can teach them all these basics.

- In percentage terms, how much will the Cabinet be renewed?
- Maybe by 15% or 20%. After all, most of the ministers have only recently been appointed and one should not expect any cadre decisions on them.
Source: ia-centr.ru