Eurasia This Week: May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in Eurasia, usually posted on Thursdays and occasionally updated throughout the week. For a full electoral calendar and interactive map, click here.

Downtown Nur-Sultan (formerly known as Astana), capital of Kazakhstan. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Ninaras (CC BY 4.0)

Upcoming Eurasia Elections

Kazakhstan Constitutional Referendum: June 5, 2022

Kazakhstan will hold a constitutional referendum on June 5, 2022. This comes in response to a series of protests in January 2022 that rocked the country and left as many as 225 people dead, as well as a reported 12,000 people in detention. Russia briefly sent personnel under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), its military alliance of several post-Soviet states.

On June 5, voters will adopt or reject a package of 33 reforms to the constitution (about one-third of the current constitution). President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (who called the protesters “terrorists”), claims that the reforms will transform Kazakhstsan from a super-presidential system to a “presidential system with a strong parliament.”

Central Asia expert Colleen Wood writes: “The proposed reforms are important steps toward real representative government in Kazakhstan; however, they do not necessarily constitute forward movement. Many of the amendments are simply reinstating mechanisms of checks on presidential power that previously existed, rather than materially changing the relationship between state and society, as Tokayev claims.”

Kazakhstan is an authoritarian state. Elections take place in the context of an authoritarian system in which critics of the government face harassment and arrest. As such, no genuine opposition has representation in the legislature. More

Colleen Wood, The Diplomat (May 9, 2022): What’s in Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Referendum?

RFE/RL (May 5, 2022): Kazakh President Signs Decree For June 5 Referendum On Constitutional Changes

Almaz Kumenov, Eurasianet (May 4, 2022): Kazakhstan’s Second Republic: Plus ça change? President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has promised a new democratic order following unrest in January. But promises of reform come cheap in Kazakhstan.

Russia Regional Elections (some regions): September 11, 2022 (due)

Russia is due to hold regional and gubernatorial elections in some regions in September 2022. Because Russia staggers its regional elections, each year has some scheduled. However, the Kremlin has indicated that the elections due this year may not take place.

Russian elections are neither free nor fair. Nonetheless, the opposition has been making some gains in recent regional elections, helped by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Vote,” a campaign of tactical voting, in which they developed a list of candidates the best chance of beating Vladimir Putin’s United Russia.

Consequently, the Kremlin is waging a brutal crackdown on the opposition, including imprisoning Navalny. Candidates who have worked with Navalny or supported him were banned from the election. Only one genuine opposition party – the liberal Yabloko – was able to field candidates in last year’s Duma elections. Navalny himself is in prison and recently received an additional nine years on top of his prior two and a half year sentence. More

Reuters (May 10, 2022): Four Russian governors resign as sanctions bite

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: By October 2023 and Presidential Election: By March 2024

Ukraine is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2023 and a presidential election in 2024.

In the last presidential vote, in 2019, actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko running on an anti-establishment platform. However, since then, the country’s traditional pro-Europe and pro-Moscow political forces have regained ground. Since the invasion, Ukrainians have rallied around Zelenskyy, but the United Kingdom and others have warned that Russia seeks to topple his government and install a pro-Moscow puppet regime.

Russia’s military aggression, which began in 2014, continues. Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. While Russia had perhaps expected that Ukraine’s government would collapse quickly, it has held. Moreover, most of Ukraine’s political factions have rallied behind Zelenskyy, with former rivals Yulia Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko (recently released from prison) posing for photos with him. Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has met in its chamber, with members singing the national anthem. Most if not all members of the Rada have remained in Ukraine, either to continue to carry out their legislative duties or to fight with the military.

Lincoln Mitchell, Foreign Affairs (May 6, 2022): Putin’s Orange Obsession: How a Twenty-Year Fixation With Color Revolutions Drove a Disastrous War

Georgia Parliamentary Elections: October 2024 (due – snap elections possible)

Georgia is due to hold parliamentary elections in October 2024, but snap elections could happen. The October 2021 local elections took place in a tense political climate, exacerbated by the arrest of former president Mikheil Saakashvili upon his return to the country on the eve of the vote. Runoffs took place on October 30, including for the important role of mayor of Tbilisi, which the ruling Georgian Dream party failed to win in the first round. Ultimately, Georgian Dream did win the second round amid criticism from the opposition. The opposition has been calling for new elections since October 2020’s parliamentary polls, due to claims of fraud. International observers noted significant flaws in the elections, and observed that there were issues with public confidence in the polls.

Georgian Dream, a coalition founded by eccentric and Kremlin-connected oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, came to power during the 2012 parliamentary elections, ousting Saakasvili’s pro-European, pro-NATO United National Movement. Despite Ivanishvili’s Kremlin ties, Georgian Dream has continued some of Georgia’s steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration, including applying for EU membership.

RFE/RL (May 10, 2022): Jailed Georgian Ex-President Transferred To Clinic For Treatment (May 10, 2022): Georgia Submits Part Two of EU Questionnaire

Nini Gabritchidze, Eurasianet (May 10, 2022): Calls for Georgia to open a “second front” against Russia fall flat: Many outsiders have been calling on Georgia to take advantage of Russian weakness to reclaim its lost territories. But Georgians themselves aren’t having it

South Ossetia De-Facto Presidential Runoff: May 8, 2022

Following Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russia has occupied two breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both territories have declared independence, but the vast majority of the world considers them to be part of Georgia. On March 30, South Ossetia’s then-de facto president, Anatoly Bibilov, announced that he will take steps to make South Ossetia part of Russia. However, Bibilov subsequently lost re-election to opposition Alan Gagloyev. Gagloyev, like most South Ossetia political actors, is also very pro-Moscow. The vote was widely condemned as illegitimate within Georgia and by the international community as South Ossetia is considered part of Georgia by almost everyone apart from Russia. More (May 10, 2022): US Senator condemns illegal elections in Russian-occupied Tskhinvali, vows support to Georgia’s sovereignty

Shota Kincha and Tata Shoshiashvili, OC Media (May 9, 2022): Opposition leader wins South Ossetia presidential election

Jerusalem Post (May 8, 2022): South Ossetia to hold second round of presidential elections – report: Alan Gagloyev, leader of the Nykhas Party, emerged with 38.55% of the vote in the first round. The vote is significant as it ties into the overall political climate in the region.

Past Eurasia Elections

Armenia Snap Elections: June 20, 2021

Armenia held snap parliamentary elections on June 20, 2021 in an effort to defuse a political crisis following a defeat in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Pre-election polls suggested a close contest between acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan and former president Robert Kocharyan; however, Pashinyan ended up winning by a significant margin. Political tensions remain.

Pashinyan, a former MP and journalist, was originally elected prime minister in December 2018 in snap elections. The snap elections followed a series of protests that led to the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s former president who became prime minister in an attempt to remain in power when faced with term limits. This became known as Armenia’s “Velvet Revolution.” The Economist named Armenia country of the year for 2018.

Some had hoped that these steps toward greater democracy would convince Armenia to move away from its historical alignment with Russia and toward the west, but that has not largely happened, for a variety of reasons.

Tony Wesolowsky, RFE/RL (May 6, 2022): Facing Mass Protests Calling For Him To Resign, Armenia’s Prime Minister Is Running Out Of Options

Regional Analysis

Erica Marat and Johan Engvall, Foreign Policy (May 10, 2022): Former Soviet States Are Distancing Themselves From Their Old Imperial Master: The war in Ukraine is prompting countries from Kazakhstan to Moldova to reexamine their colonial past and seek diplomatic allies beyond the Kremlin

Eurasia Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

Kazakhstan Constitutional Referendum: June 5, 2022

Russia Regional Elections (some regions): September 11, 2022 (due)

Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 2023 (due)

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: By October 29, 2023 (due)

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