Eurasia This Week: May 26, 2022

May 26, 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.

The Bridge of Peace over the Kura River in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo credit: Wikimedia/shankar s (CC BY 2.0)

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

Kostis Geropoulos, New Europe (May 24, 2022): Kazakhstan reaffirms strategic partnership with EU, accelerates political reforms

Human Rights Watch (May 19, 2022): Kazakhstan: Boost Rights Protection in Constitution Reform

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

Paul Kirby, BBC (May 25, 2022): Ukraine war: Russia’s jailed Navalny attacks invasion as judge rejects appeal

Bohdan Vitvitsky, Atlantic Council (May 24, 2022): The Putin puzzle: Why is the Russian dictator so obsessed with Ukraine?

Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Telegraph (May 23, 2022): Russian counsellor to UN quits over Ukraine invasion: ‘I have never been so ashamed of my country’

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Moldova is due to hold local elections in October 2023. After that, a presidential election is due in 2024 and parliamentary elections are due in 2025.

The last elections were snap parliamentary elections on July 11, 2021 which pro-Europe center-right president Maia Sandu had been trying to call for months because in Moldova’s parliamentary system, a legislative majority is necessary to execute on any policy agenda. Prior to these elections, party had a clear majority in parliament (and Sandu’s allies were outnumbered by pro-Russian parties), leading to political instability. Sandu’s allies ended up winning in a landslide.

Sandu herself trounced pro-Kremlin leftist Igor Dodon, who had been the incumbent, in the November 2020 presidential election, after losing narrowly to him in 2016.

Russia has ramped up its harassment Moldova following the victories of Sandu and her allies. Moreover, Russia instigated and continues to perpetuate a frozen conflict in Transnistria, where 1,400 Russian troops are stationed – an obstacle to Moldova’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Additionally, Transnistria’s rampant organized crime and corruption threaten Moldova’s stability. Russia also stokes separatism in Gagauzia, a Turkic-speaking region of Moldova. More

Madalin Necsutu, Balkan Insight (May 25, 2022): Moldovan Ex-President Dodon Blames Arrest on ‘Political Vendetta’

Davide Lerner, Financial Times (May 24, 2022): Moldovan minority treads line between Russia and homeland: Government worried that traditional pro-Moscow sentiment in Gagauzia could destabilise region

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. (May 24, 2022): Ruling party MP: Georgia has made “significant progress” on EU path

Givi Silagadze and the Caucasus Datablog, OC Media (May 24, 2022): How does Georgia’s democracy compare with countries granted EU candidacy? (May 24, 2022): Draft EU-Georgia Association Agenda Stresses Need for ‘Ambitious’ Reforms

Ian Kelly and David J. Kramer, The Bulwark (May 24, 2022): Putin Is Failing in Ukraine, But Winning in Georgia: The government in Tbilisi is taking pages from Putin’s playbook

Michael Emerson and Steve Blockmans, CEPS (May 20, 2022): Georgia’s dubious application for EU membership

Past Eurasia Elections

Belarus Constitutional Referendum: February 27, 2022

Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, held a constitutional referendum on February 27, 2022 as a way of extending his time in power (he has been president since 1994 – the first and only president of post-Soviet Belarus). The changes allow Lukashenko to remain in office until 2035 and scrap Belarus’s non-nuclear status. Belarus’s elections and political processes are neither free nor fair.

The country las held a presidential election on August 9, 2020. In a vote widely deemed not free and not fair, Lukashenko declared victory. However, the opposition declared that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had in fact won. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in protest to demand free and fair elections, even in the face of assault and arrest by security forces. Protests and political defiance continue. 

In addition, Russia staged troops in Belarus ahead of its invasion of Ukraine. More

ABC News Australia (May 22, 2022): Volunteers who fled authorities in Belarus fight for Ukraine in hopes it will help change things in their homeland

Uzbekistan Presidential Election: October 24, 2021

Uzbekistan held a presidential election on October 24, 2021. Elections in Uzbekistan are neither free nor fair, and political opposition is not able to operate freely in the country. Although some had hoped that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev would face a serious challenger this year, that did not happen. Instead, would-be challengers were either denied ballot access or dropped outMore

Eurasianet (May 24, 2022): Where is Uzbekistan’s constitutional reform heading? Proposals are light on substance and mostly echo the president

Regional Analysis

Bloomberg News (May 15, 2022): Russia’s Backyard Weighs Opportunities, Threats From Putin’s War: Ex-Soviet states are striving to avoid conflict and loosen Moscow ties as Putin’s war in Ukraine sends tremors through the region

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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