Pre-Race Surprises Shake Up Kazakhstan’s 2023 Election Campaign

February 20, 2023

In Kazakhstan, registration of candidate lists for deputies of the Mazhilis and maslikhats, the lower house of parliament, was recently completed. Taking into account the new rules of the game, both those who are included in party lists and those who are nominated by parties in single-mandate districts are equally important.

The elections scheduled for March 19, 2023, in Kazakhstan are characterized by high activity at the very beginning of the race. In late February, the CEC registered 14,207 candidates. Of these, 892 were candidates for the Majilis and 13,315 for the maslikhats. Party lists of candidates for the lower chamber of parliament included 283 people.

That is, political associations in the current electoral cycle have focused on the maslikhats. Seven parties registered in the country officially participate in the election race; they have prepared two lists respectively.

Political associations which are in the process of registration and have not received the right to participate in the elections have the opportunity to nominate their representatives in single-mandate districts. And judging by the data published by the CEC of Kazakhstan, this is happening. Thus, the competition is now two-level - between organizations and specific individuals.

Perhaps with some campaigning this innovation will involve more voters. Yes, there is only a month left. But just such a time pressure is more effective for the emotional background in the society than the measured processes.
A cursory examination of the candidate lists makes it hard to spot the brightest characters. It is as if the cast has picked everyone who is not an upstart and will not pull the blanket over themselves. But that is at first glance. With the general emotional fatigue of the audience, there are more than two dozen characters among the candidates who could rock. We will, however, look at the most influential party members who made up the base of the lists.

Excessive Maximum
The Amanat party (formerly Nazarbayev's Nur Otan, and earlier Otan) seems determined to repeat the achievements of its predecessors and capture the whole house. Though, the rules of the game in 2007 were diametrically opposite to present - then single-seat constituencies were abolished and deputies were elected by party lists (98 people) and from Assembly of the Nation of Kazakhstan (9 people, the same Nur Otan).

Now that it has lost its status as the "president's party", Amanat has submitted a party list of 90 candidates and nominated another 29 candidates in single-mandate districts. A total of 98 mandates are expected.
According to the law, the parties who received more than 5% of the vote in the previous elections do not pay a fee, and Nur Otan has been the parliamentary majority for many years. In general, the party can nominate a maximum number of candidates and set the most ambitious goals.
The other six parties are not so ambitious.

- Fifty-four candidates to the Mazhilis from Aq Jol were approved as candidates on party lists and 23 on the majoritarian system.
- People's Party of Kazakhstan prepared the party list of 52 persons; 15 candidates were nominated in the majoritarian districts.
- Auyl has nominated 25 candidates by the party lists and nine by the majoritarian system.
- The congress of the PSDP (People’s Social Democratic Party) approved the list of 19 candidates to the Mazhilis of the parliament to be nominated by the party list and six - by the majoritarian system.
- The party list of the Green Party Baitak included 18 people, and four more candidates were nominated under the majoritarian system.
- The Respublica Party has 25 people on its list (two of them later withdrew their candidacies) and four single-mandate candidates.

By the way, PPK, Aq Jol and Auyl could have done as the former Nur Otan did, and nominated as many as possible, since they are exempt from paying the election fee of 1,050,000 tenge for each candidate in the list, since they won more than 5% of the votes in the last elections. But in their case, this would be an action strongly contrary to Occam's razor rule. The lists are already redundant.

Everyone has its own base.
The base of the future parliament, by all appearances, could be Amanat. As political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev noted in his telegraph channel, the backbone of the party list consisted of 24 members of the parliamentary faction of the last convocation, headed by the speaker and leader of Amanat, Yerlan Koshanov. It was reinforced by two more party secretaries, Eldar Zhumagaziev, who worked with Timur Kulibayev for many years, and Daulet Karibek. The first one was nominated for the next parliamentary elections in 2021 as a secretary of Adal party, which didn't get mandates then and later joined Amanat. The second has been working in Nur Otan's structures since his youth (with short breaks). Apart from Koshanov, the backbone of the party consists of Aigul Kospan, former colleague of President Tokayev in the Foreign Ministry with vast experience of international contacts; Yuri Zhilin, former inspector of presidential administration for several years and also head of various information and analytical structures; former KGB officer with extensive experience of party, international and administrative work Pavel Kazantsev; professional sociologist and Nur Otan functionary Yulia Kuchinskaya; TV presenter and producer Arthur Platonov who worked with Dariga Nazarbayeva for many years.

Also several strong figures were taken to strengthen the faction. Baktykozha Izmuhambetov is a short-term elected both vice-speaker and speaker of the Mazhilis of the Parliament, an oilman, was the akim of the Atyrau region, the chairman of the Central Council of the Regional Public Association "Organization of Veterans".

Askhat Aimagambetov is a protégé of the current head of Amanat Koshanov, who headed the Ministry of Education and Science, then - the Ministry of Education. Accordingly, after the covid problems he has a controversial background. Moreover, accusations of falsification of the thesis and some corrupt schemes.

Murat Abenov is an experienced official and politician. He was the deputy of Mazhilis of two convocations and the vice-minister of education and science. He left the ministry after his criticism concerning utilization of budgetary funds. To all appearances, the politician either has good intuition or support.
Kairbek Arystanbekov is a Director of Economic Policy Institute, member of the NСPT, often appears in the media as an expert on economics. Omirtay Bitimov is a Chairman of Kazakhstan-Afghanistan Development and Partnership Association AFG-QAZ, former ambassador to Afghanistan and former head of foreign intelligence.

Berik Beisengaliyev, former vice-minister of agriculture, former head of KazAgro holding, Temirbank, was involved in transformation of Samruk-Kazyna fund; his paths often cross with the family of Bulat Utemuratov.
Yerlan Nysanbayev is a politician with a strong foundation, former vice-minister of ecology, geology and natural resources.

Bauyrzhan Smagulov is a Chairman of the Board of JSC Institute of Electricity Development and Energy Saving (Kazakhenergoekspertiza).
Madi Takiev is a head of the socio-economic monitoring department of the AP.

Apart from these figures, the party list includes many well-known representatives of civil society and professional politicians. Many of them were in the National Council of Public Trust (NCPT, created by order of the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on June 12, 2019), as well as in the National Kurultai, created in June 2022.

Parliamentary minority: Aq Jol, PPK, Auyl Aq Jol has a similar approach. The first seven parties on the list are from the previous faction. Another three parliamentarians, who were in the seventh Mazhilis, were moved to the middle of the list.

Azamat Abildaev was not included in the list; according to some sources, he could not find common language with the party leadership. Another Ak jol nominee is Nurlan Zhazylbekov from majoritarian district in Alma-Ata, but not from Aq Jol official list, and one more Fuat Satybayev is from the list.

Naturally, the backbone of the faction is the head of Aq Jol Azat Peruashev, who was connected with Eurasian group and Timur Kulibayev. Peruashev's old Civic Party associate Berik Dyusembinov also retained his position, and writer Kazybek Isa, scandalously known for his nationalist statements, remained in the first ranks. The list was strengthened by political scientist Burihan Nurmuhamedov and well known lawyer Sergei Utkin.