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Kazakhstan: Putting the spring back into the steppe

The global credit crunch and associated economic downturn hit Kazakhstan hard. But there is growing evidence that the country is back on the path to recovery. Guy Norton reports from Almaty.

IF ONLY EVERYTHING in life was as predictable as Kazakh politics. In April’s presidential elections the long-term incumbent, Nursultan Nazarbayev, won yet another term in office, with a dizzying 96% of the popular vote, ensuring that there is little prospect of a political upheaval in the foreseeable future. And while allegations of ballot box stuffing and biased media coverage have done little to boost Nazarbayev’s democratic credentials among western liberals, local bankers believe the result reflects the fact that he continues to enjoy the support of a sizeable part of the Kazakh population.

"People in Kazakhstan are generally comfortable with the Nazarbayev regime and what’s in it for them, as they are far richer than they were 20 years ago," says Michael Carter, chief executive of Almaty-based investment bank Visor Capital. He adds: "When it comes to elections people all over the world tend to vote with their wallets and Kazakhstan is no different in that respect." Although there had been speculation that Nazarbayev’s decision to go to the polls a year earlier than scheduled was prompted by concern at the uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa, Carter doesn’t believe that the political situations are comparable.

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