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Ethnicity and Elections under Authoritarianism: The Case of Kazakhstan

Discussion Papers


March, 2009


Despite the ethnicisation of power since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has managed to maintain political stability without experiencing large-scale mobilisation to oppose Kazakh domination. This paper examines government strategy to avoid ethnic voting in an attempt to explain why ethnic divisions were rarely reflected in the struggle for power in the republic.
While the arbitrary use of legal provisions considerably limited participation in elections by ethnic leaders, powerful pro-president parties that exhibited a cross-ethnic character were created to curtail ethnically based movements. The control strategy in elections aimed not simply at ethnicising the parliament in favour of Kazakhs, but at having loyal Russians and other minorities represented in the legislature through nomination by the president and catch-all pro-regime parties, or through the presidential consultative body—Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan. This well-controlled representation of minorities served not only to placate non-Kazakhs but also to provide legitimacy for the Kazakh-dominated leadership by projecting the image of cross-ethnic support for the president and some degree of power-sharing.

Keywords: ethnic minority, election, Kazakhstan

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