In an attempt to cling on to power amid discontent at falling oil prices in the ex-Soviet state of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called a snap election.
Mr Nazarbayev, whose rule has been marked by allegations of human rights abuses and corruption, dissolved the lower house of parliament, urging the nation to consolidate at a time of economic hardship caused by the crash in oil prices. The election, originally expected at the end of this year or early 2017, will be held on 20 March.
Political analysts say the early poll will allow the veteran leader to reaffirm his grip on power before discontent over a slowing economy reaches a peak.
“Our people, as always, need to unite and rebuff, by means of lawmaking if needed, any potential provocations at this hard time,” Mr Nazarbayev said. “And [also rebuff] those who try to politicise and seek culprits for the situation worsening.”
Mr Nazarbayev has no opponents in the 107-seat lower house, which is dominated by his Nur Otan party and routinely approves bills drafted by the government. Kazakhstan has never held an election that Western observers judged to be “free and fair”. He was re-elected for another five-year term last April.
Shortly after his victory, he apologised. Not for ruling with an iron grip, but for winning with 97.7 per cent of the vote, saying it would have “looked undemocratic” for him to intervene to make his victory more modest. The 74-year-old former steel worker has ruled the nation since 1989.
The economy has been hit by the decline in global energy prices and by economic difficulties in Russia.