Continued from page 1

“There are plenty of mechanisms for the presidential party to keep its position,” said Bruno De Cordier, an analyst specializing in Central Asian politics at the Conflict Research Group at Ghent University in Belgium.

“There is the grip that people in the presidential family or connected to the regime have on the main media, and then there is the parallel power that the presidential party has in the civil service and among sectors that are being subsidized or funded by government,” he said.

Analysts say Mr. Nazarbayev has maintained autocratic rule since 1991 via a tacit agreement with Kazakh citizens, who have exchanged democratic rights for stability and economic growth.

“Between 2000 and 2007, the economy grew almost 10 percent a year on average,” said Mr. De Cordier. “That gave the establishment a lot of legitimacy, and at the same time it could buy social peace and political apathy in wide sectors of society.”

That social stability now may be at risk. Economic growth has slowed amid falling oil prices and the global financial downturn, and disparities between rich and poor are widening.

“Do not underestimate the psychological impact of the Arab Spring on Central Asia,” Mr. De Cordier said. “People have been watching this and thinking about their own equivalents of the regimes that were toppled in some Arab countries. And the intelligence and security agencies have been on quite high alert since then.”

All this is forcing the government to demonstrate its commitment to reform, analysts say. But most agree that the changes are merely cosmetic.

“Even the government doesn’t hide that they have no intention of copying Western democracies,” said Lilit Gevorgyan, an analyst and IHS Global Insight in London. “I think what they are trying to do is to show that they are responding to social discontent.”

“I think what we will see is something similar to the Russian parliament, a model of ‘managed democracy’ where smaller, ‘opposition’ parties do not really challenge the government,” she said.

Mr. Kosanov drew a different comparison with Russia: “It’s hard to see [anything changing politically here] but also in Russia, no one thought that there would be huge protests after the election.”

Andrey Sviridov, of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said there is no real democracy in Kazakhstan and the elections are as much an exercise in manipulating international opinion as that of Kazakh citizens.

“For us, the elections play hardly any role,” Mr. Sviridov said. “The parties standing for election don’t really differ from one another.”

Ruby Russell reported from Berlin.