A key adviser to Kazakhstan's veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has insisted the president's move to call early elections was not prompted by events in Cairo – and that there is little chance of an Egypt-style uprising in the central Asian state.
As demonstrations against Egypt's Hosni Mubarak gathered momentum last month, Mr Nazarbayev, 70, cancelled a planned referendum that could have kept him in power for a third decade, until 2020, bypassing elections in 2012 and 2017.
Surprising opponents, he instead called early elections for April 3, shortening his current seven-year presidential term by more than 18 months.
Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, the president's political counsellor, told the Financial Times the pressure on Egypt's Mr Mubarak had not influenced Mr Nazarbayev's decision.
"Egypt and Kazakhstan are completely different countries, in terms of socioeconomic development," he said. "In Egypt, 40 per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day ... Nazarbayev has established a different economic system where people can earn a decent living."
Mr Nazarbayev presides over an authoritarian system in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, where all 98 parliament members come from the president's Nur Otan party. But his successful economic management has attracted more than $100bn of foreign investment since the Soviet collapse and boosted annual per capita income 12-fold to about $9,000.
Mr Yertysbayev said the election decision reflected Mr Nazarbayev's doubts about the referendum appearing undemocratic. Analysts have speculated that the idea originated in the president's circle – aimed at giving Mr Nazarbayev breathing space to manage his handover to a chosen successor – but his adviser insisted it came from Kazakh citizens.
The adviser said the Kazakh leadership had also heeded US and European criticism that the referendum would be a setback for democracy. The initiative emerged in December soon after Mr Nazarbayev hosted a summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Astana, the Kazakh capital.
"Our president very much values the opinion of the US and the EU. He has big ambitions. He wants to be a politician on a global level," Mr Yertysbayev said. "Kazakhstan has become part of the international community, and if you have joined a gentleman's club, you have to observe the rules of the club."
After referring the referendum idea to Kazakhstan's constitutional council – which ruled it unconstitutional – Mr Nazarbayev decided on pre-term elections, riding the wave of 90 per cent-plus approval ratings, Mr Yertysbayev said.
The president's adviser insisted elections would be free and fair, but opposition parties have already suggested they will be manipulated, with some threatening to boycott the polls.