By Olzhas Auyezov
ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s interim president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, called a snap presidential election for June 9 on Tuesday and looked to be in pole position to continue ruling the oil-rich Central Asian nation.
The only other potential heavyweight candidate, Dariga Nazarbayeva, has no plans to run, her aide told Kazakh news website Tengrinews.kz after the vote announcement.
Her father Nursultan Nazarbayev ran the ex-Soviet republic for almost three decades until his surprise resignation last month. Tokayev, then speaker of parliament’s upper chamber, subsequently assumed the presidency.
The announcement of a snap election in two months leaves other potential candidates with little time to organise and run campaigns. The incumbent’s ratings are likely to benefit from public sector pay rises in June and other welfare initiatives.
“In order to secure social and political accord, confidently move forward, and deal with socio-economic development tasks, it is necessary to eliminate any uncertainty,” Tokayev, 65, said in a televised address to the nation.
Nazarbayev, 78, retains sweeping powers in the country of 18 million as the official “national leader”, chair of its security council and head of the ruling Nur Otan party. Analysts say his endorsement will be the deciding factor in the vote.
Nazarbayev’s daughter Dariga, 55, also regarded by analysts as a potential president one day, has replaced Tokayev as Senate speaker. Tokayev has not confirmed he will be standing to continue as president, although that is widely assumed in local political circles.
Under Kazakh law, presidential candidates can only be nominated by nationwide organisations such as political parties. Both Tokayev and Dariga Nazarbayeva are members of Nur Otan.
The newly-elected president will have fewer powers than Nazarbayev did: a 2017 constitutional reform gives parliament and the cabinet more say with regards to long-term planning, personnel decisions, and legislative initiative.
The political transition in the former Soviet republic neighbouring Russia and China is closely watched by foreign investors who have pumped tens of billions of dollars into its energy and mining sectors since independence.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Andrew Cawthorne and Raissa Kasolowsky)