Kazakhstan: Government Mulls Snap Election

Kazakhstan appears poised to hold a snap presidential election. The group that govern the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (APK),the organization that represents Kazakhstan’s ethnic groups, has called for the election on the grounds that holding it now would allow Kazakh president for life Nursultan Nazarbayev to focus on issues most pressing to the country. Critics of the proposal have highlighted the fact that the APK is headed by Nazarbayev himself, and that his re-election wouldn’t necessarily put to rest questions surrounding who his successor might be or how succession would be carried out when the moment arrives.

Kazakhstan currently finds itself in a difficult situation economically and geopolitically.  The low cost of oil has taken a toll on the its economy, which has also felt trickle down consequences from sanctions imposed against Russia’s economy. As the Russian ruble has weakened, so too has the Kazakh tenge, leading to a recent devaluation of 19% by the Kazakh central bank. Additionally, a statement made by Russian President Vladimir Putin seemingly doubting Kazakhstan’s ability to govern itself after Nazarbayev either dies or withdraws from the Kazakh political scene enraged many Kazakhs and created concern that Russian meddling similar to what has transpired in eastern Ukraine may by looming.

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News Briefs;

  • Mixed reports have emerged from Ukraine concerning the state of the latest cease fire. It was initially reported that the cease fire had been broken almost immediately, though now reports are emerging that the truce has “mostly held,” despite reports to the contrary. Representatives from mediator state Germany and France have insisted that the deal has held and that there exists the will to uphold the suspension of violence despite limited shelling in Debaltseve.
  • Azerbaijan is preparing to abandon its current currency peg to the US dollar. The Azerbaijani economy relies heavily on gas and oil revenues, though with oil prices currently at historic lows the economy has been severely strained. The former head of Azerbaijan’s central bank has joined other leading Azerbaijani officials in clamoring for a more flexible exchange rate as well as “corrections” to both fiscal and monetary policies. Oil and gas currently account for 95% of Azerbaijan’s exports and 70% of overall revenues.
  • Tajikistan has agreed to export increased amounts of hydroelectric energy to Pakistan. The decision was announced at a recent meeting between Tajik Ambassador to Pakistan Sher Ali Jononov and members of the Pakistani chamber of commerce. The decision to export growing amounts of energy will make up part of expanded trade agreements between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, according to Jononov.
  • Afghanistan will play host to the 21st summit held to discuss the TAPI pipeline. While dates are still to be determined, Afghan officials affirmed that the meeting would be held “within the next two months,” in Kabul. It is uncertain how close TAPI members are to breaking ground on the pipeline, as conflicting reports surrounding Total, the deal’s  guarantor, had recently put the viability of the project in question.
  • The governor of the Iranian province of Mazandaran has alleged that Iran has received renewed interest from its northern neighbors in re-opening a Caspian Sea oil swap scheme discontinued by Iran approximately five years ago. Though it’s undetermined which countries are allegedly interested in the revival of the arrangement, previous partners such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan previously availed themselves of Iranian oil refineries before sending refined crude to its ultimate destination.

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