Kazakhstan is nearing the parliamentary election on Mar 19 and the ruling party Amanat remains virtually certain to win. This year's campaign has been slightly more eventful than the one in 2021, but that is mostly due to increased competition among Amanat's rivals as well as the emergence of new parties. These factors also imply the ruling party will win a smaller share of the vote than in recent years (ca. 70%), likely around 50%. This is supported by available poll data, though surveys are still very much scarce. Voter turnout should also gravitate around 55-60%. As outlined in our earlier report, the agendas of all competing parties overlap in multiple ways and generally coincide with the reform plans of President Tokayev.
At present, there are still some questions regarding the chances of Auyl and Respublica as well as the People's Party of Kazakhstan. Auyl's active use of 'patriotic' narratives has earned it additional visibility alongside its traditional popularity in the agrarian field. We think Auyl is most likely to gain parliamentary representation apart from the status quo parties thanks to the lower threshold. The People's Party is expected to lose support relative to the 2021 election (when it won 9.1% of the ballot) and we believe its result could drop close to the 5% threshold. As a whole, its campaign has been plagued by internal leadership disputes, which led to the expulsion of several prominent members. As far as meaningful activity goes, the party's presence has been largely muted, but we would still be surprised if it failed to win seats. Respublica has been active in large cities and some of its key faces have gained approval thanks to media appearances. Yet, it is still relatively unknown and has not made a name for itself in smaller / rural villages, which currently creates some uncertainty, in our view.
Predictably, Amanat has managed to mobilise the most extensive resources for its election campaign. Its reach importantly covers smaller cities and villages, where competitors could have found it easier to gather support thanks to age-related specifics and/or their focus on agriculture. In addition, Amanat made a strategic choice regarding its representative for TV debates. The party thus appointed Aydos Sarym, a relative newcomer, but an active figure with regard to the official reform course. Based on informal surveys following debates on state-owned channels, Sarym has been viewers' universal favourite. As expected, he tends to highlight Amanat's focus on social justice, anti-corruption efforts, rural development, and wage growth. These aspects are also crucial to Tokayev's reform agenda and are most likely to appeal to the public.
The established status quo parties have had relatively quiet campaigns centred around their traditional priorities. Specifically, Ak Zhol, which is likely to finish second again, has catered to the business community. The party thus calls for administrative simplifications concerning SMEs, reform of official employment programmes, and economic demonopolisation, although the latter is somewhat abstract. Its stable core electorate makes it the favourite for second place though this is mostly due to the lack of stronger competition. Meanwhile, the People's Party has struggled to formulate a strong message amid internal turmoil. Its main representative, Yermuhamet Yertysbayev, has at times urged people to just cast a vote regardless of who they support. He has also proposed an 'opposition' coalition without necessarily explaining what the benefits would be.
Auyl's main message is related to the idea that Kazakhstan should be an industrial-agrarian country. The party has pledged to invest heavily in village infrastructure and also promises loan forgiveness to agricultural producers. As outlined earlier, it seeks support among patriotic voters, proposing different initiatives to strengthen the role of the Kazakh language. The party's main representative, Zhiguli Dayrabayev, has also chosen to speak Kazakh during TV debates, as opposed to Russian. Respublica is Auyl's main competitor for parliamentary representation. It has mostly been active in large cities with more young voters and entrepreneurs. As a whole, the party has presented itself as a collective of successful (and younger) managers with limited ties to the political establishment. Its discourse is technocratic and has appealed to TV viewers, based on survey data. The fact that it only had months to establish a presence is the main obstacle in its campaign and the reason why we currently favour Auyl ahead of Respublica. The two remaining parties, Baytaq and Kazakhstan's Social Democratic Party, are still the outsiders in this campaign. Apart from general environmental slogans, the former's agenda remains somewhat abstract. The latter has mostly opposed everything presented by its rivals, but has less to offer in terms of its original proposals.
The Public Opinion Institute, the Strategy Centre, and the Democracy Institute are the only ones that have published results from countrywide polls so far. All three identify Amanat as the clear favourite, but the former's earlier survey puts Auyl ahead of Ak Zhol. Conversely, the latter two surveys show Ak Zhol will be second. Their data differs with regard to the People's Party and Auyl, but both are expected to win seats. The Strategy Centre's survey also suggests Respublica will be able to pass the threshold. Baytaq and the Social Democratic Party are outsiders in all three cases.
This year's election is expected to result in the most diverse parliamentary representation since 2004. In recent campaigns, only Amanat, Ak Zhol, and the People's Party had managed to win seats, which arguably reduced popular interest in parliamentary elections and the role of parliament in general. While the increased representation will be a positive development matching Tokayev's democratisation narrative, there is still limited potential for actual opposition to the ruling class. No party has directly criticised the president's reform agenda and it is highly unlikely that MPs will try to oppose it once elected. Overall, Amanat will continue the reform course without interruption, but we do not expect fundamental systemic shifts as a result.
In terms of government composition, we remind that earlier this year Tokayev resorted to reshuffling, appointing five new ministers. A new deputy PM was also tasked with coordinating reform initiatives. In this context, the current cabinet should remain intact, though some minor changes may still be possible. This implies continued policy predictability, including a more or less neutral and pragmatic stance regarding foreign policy. The authorities will have to manage the balance in relations with Russia, especially if the war is protracted in the long term, but the potential for volatility in this respect is limited for now, in our view. Significant protest activity also seems unlikely as the official reform course benefits from solid popular approval at this stage.