World Bulletin / News Desk
The ruling party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev supported on Monday a "people's initiative" to hold an early presidential election this year, paving the way for the veteran leader's re-election for a new five-year term.
"We believe the initiative on holding an early presidential election is the most correct decision in full compliance with the interests of the nation and the people," the Nur Otan party said in a statement posted on its website (www.nurotan.kz)
Nur Otan's statement followed an initiative by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan to hold a snap election to allow the president to steer Kazakhstan through economic difficulties caused by low oil prices and a crisis in neighbouring Russia.
The assembly is a constitutional body which represents the country's ethnic groups and is also chaired by the president.
Nazarbayev was elected by almost 96 percent of votes in 2011 and his five-year term ends only in late 2016.
The 74-year-old former steel worker has ruled his vast Central Asian nation of 17 million with a strong hand since 1989 when he became the head of the local Communist Party.
He keeps a tight lid on dissent and faces no real challenge from the country's small opposition. His swift re-election in a snap vote would end speculation about his possible successor.
With the support of his ruling party, which dominates the legislature, a new five-year term is an almost certainty for the former Soviet apparatchik.
Under the constitution, Nazarbayev is now expected to issue a decree to set the date for an early election, Zagipa Baliyeva, a senior Nur Otan parliamentarian, told journalists.
The president's office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nazarbayev is officially called "Leader of the Nation" and is allowed by law to be elected as many times as he wants.
He has been repeatedly criticised by the West and human rights bodies for his authoritarian methods. Kazakhstan, a close political and trade ally of Russia, has never held an election judged to be free and fair by the West.
But Nazarbayev has also overseen market reforms, attracted more than $170 billion in foreign direct investment to Central Asia's largest economy and managed to preserve religious and inter-ethnic stability in his mainly Muslim nation.