|Nursultan Nazarbayev has been president of Kazakhstan, a member of the former Soviet Union, since 1991 [Reuters]
Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's president, has issued a decree to dissolve parliament and call elections early next year that could pave the way for a multiparty legislature.
"I decree...to dissolve the Mazhilis parliament of Kazakhstan...and call snap elections for deputies of the Mazhilis elected through party lists for January 15, 2012," Nazarbayev said on Wednesday in a statement published through his website.
The move comes after Nazarbayev, who has ruled the oil-rich Central Asian state since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, said on Tuesday that the Kazakh parliament needed renewing to encourage the country's democratic development.
Kazakhstan's parliament is currently occupied exclusively by Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party, while Nazarbayev himself was re-elected earlier this year, winning 95 per cent of the vote in an election boycotted by opposition and criticised by international observers.
But under new election rules approved in 2009, the party that wins the second-largest number of votes will be allocated seats even if it fails to pass the seven per cent threshold normally needed to get into parliament.
Some question however whether the rule changes will favour any genuine opposition parties, with the government-friendly Ak Zhol party, led by a close associate of Nazarbayev's family, expected to be the main beneficiary.
Elections had been scheduled to take place in August but Nazarbayev said they should be held earlier to avoid the campaign season coinciding with an anticipated global economic downturn.