Kazakhstan's ruling Otan party on Friday officially named President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its candidate in December elections, when the long-ruling authoritarian leader will seek a fresh seven-year mandate.
Nazarbayev, 65, who has been at the helm of his energy-rich Central Asian nation for 16 years, promised to build on recent economic progress by increasing gross domestic product per capita 2.5 times by 2012. This would allow the ex-Soviet republic to join the club of 50 most developed countries of the world, he said.
The opposition accuses Nazarbayev of corruption and failing to follow up economic reforms with democratic changes. Opposition groups have united behind a single candidate to challenge Nazarbayev in the Dec. 4 vote, the AP reports.
Addressing his Otan party's congress on Friday, Nazarbayev said that in the past seven years GDP in the nation of 15 million grew by 75 percent, budget revenues grew five times and incomes tripled.
The country's economic success has been significantly helped by generous Western investment in its vast energy sector and high oil prices on the world market in recent years.
Nazarbayev on Friday promised further "impressive" economic progress, including making Kazakhstan one of the world's 10 top oil exporters by 2012, by increasing oil output up to 100 million metric (110 short tons) annually.
Nazarbayev also repeated his earlier pledges of liberal reforms.
The Kazakh opposition was emboldened by the March ouster of a Soviet-era leader in Kyrgyzstan, as well as by the earlier coming to power of opposition leaders in Georgia and Ukraine.
However, the entire region was shaken in May by the bloody suppression of an anti-government revolt in tightly controlled Uzbekistan.
Also on Friday, a popular independent lawmaker, Ualikhan Kaisarov, announced his intention to join the presidential race. Kaisarov, 39, said he was for a democratic and fair society and wanted to target voters who reject both the government's "conservatism" and the opposition's "radicalism."
He said he had submitted his nomination papers to election authorities on Thursday.