The Kazakh government is preparing to back President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's campaign ahead of the June 9 snap election, three sources told Reuters.
Tokayev himself has not yet said whether he plans to run, but he could be nominated as early as this week by the ruling Nur Otan party which will hold a congress on April 23, a move that would virtually guarantee him victory.
The 65-year-old former Senate speaker assumed the presidency last month in line with the constitution when veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned after running the oil-rich Central Asian nation for almost three decades.
Three sources who have personally attended preliminary coordination meetings in Nur-Sultan said they have been briefed by several high-ranking officials from different government bodies who made it clear preparations were underway to indirectly support Tokayev's campaign.
The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly, said officials had not disclosed details of the planned nomination process but spoke of Tokayev's candidacy as a decided matter to which they were privy.
The Kazakh government did not reply on Monday to questions whether it planned to support the Nur Otan candidate and whether it was already preparing to back Tokayev in particular.
Some other indications of Tokayev's likely nomination were billboards featuring his name and images put up in Kazakh cities - although Tokayev criticised one municipal government over those - and the emergence of social network accounts such as Toqayev Team which uses the Kazakh spelling of his name and has posted photos of the president in his youth on Youtube.
Kazakh presidential elections have traditionally heavily favoured the incumbent, Western monitors say. Nazarbayev routinely won elections with more than 90 percent of the vote.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in its report on the 2015 presidential election that "the involvement of government officials in the campaign and the location of Nur Otan offices in government buildings blurred the line between state and party".
It also said state media coverage had favoured the incumbent and observers received information from students and company employees of being instructed by supervisors to volunteer for the incumbent's campaign, attend campaign events held on his behalf and to vote for him.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by David Evans
FILE PHOTO: Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a news conference with his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov/File Photo