Kazakh President Calls Early Parliamentary Ballot Amid Oil Crash

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev called snap parliamentary elections as the second-largest energy producer in the former Soviet Union braces for the impact of the collapse in oil prices.

Nazarbayev, who has been in power since 1989, signed an order disbanding the lower house of parliament ahead of schedule and said the ballot will be held March 20, according to comments posted on his administration’s Twitter on Wednesday. Nazarbayev secured a fifth term in an early election in April, winning in a landslide that was criticized by international observers.

The longest-serving post-Soviet leader acted after lawmakers said earlier this month that “there’s a need for social consolidation at this critical time for effectively implementing anti-crisis measures.” Nazarbayev warned in October that a “real crisis is coming” and told the government to prepare for falling profits and incomes, as well as possible job cuts.

Kazakhstan’s currency has fallen by about 50 percent against the dollar since the central bank shifted to a free-floating exchange rate in August as tumbling crude prices and devaluations by neighboring Russia and China boosted the cost of defending the currency. The falling price of oil, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the state’s budget revenue, according to Standard & Poors, to less than $30 a barrel is prompting the government to re-assess its plans, which were based on a projected $40 for 2016.

While Nazarbayev called in November for annual economic growth of 5 percent in the next 10 years, the increase in Kazakhstan’s gross domestic product slowed to 1.2 percent in 2015. The tenge’s decline also spurred annual inflation to 13.6 percent in December.

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