ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s interim president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, called a snap presidential election for June 9 on Tuesday and looked to be in a good 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, although Nazarbayeva herself later told another news outlet, Zakon.kz, that the decision would be made by her father Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party.
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 an election in two months leaves other potential candidates with little time to organize and run campaigns. The incumbent’s approval 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.
“Having served in Nazarbayev’s government for 25 years, Tokayev is a safe pair of hands for his patron. He will ensure continuity of domestic and foreign policies,” said Kate Mallinson, managing director of London-based Prism Political Risk Management.
“However, more importantly, Tokayev will safeguard first President Nazarbayev’s legacy and his family’s wealth.”
Under Kazakh law, presidential candidates can only be nominated by nationwide organizations 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 Kazakhan, which neighbors Russia and China, is being closely watched by foreign investors who have pumped tens of billions of dollars into its energy and mining sectors since independence.
Some analysts say the sped-up transition is positive news for investors.
“It will reduce the uncertainty that was otherwise going to sit there for the next 18 months,” said Charles Robertson, head of macro strategy at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Andrew Cawthorne, Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry