Kazakhstan's Constitutional Court has set the first Sunday of December as the date for presidential elections, ending a lengthy debate between the government and the opposition over the timing of the vote.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for 16 years, has already announced his intention to run for re-election. While opponents criticize what they say is his increasingly authoritarian style, his popularity remains high, largely due to sustained economic growth, linked to the country's oil business.

Following the pro-democracy revolutions in nearby Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, some analysts, like Alexei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center, say Mr. Nazarbayev's ruling party isn't taking any chances. Mr. Malashenko says that is why Mr. Nazarbayev agreed to hold the elections this year, rather than in 2006, as his team first proposed.

"Nowadays, Mr. Nazarbayev has a far better position than before, as far as economic development, as far as social situation, and as far as his opposition is concerned," he said. "Because, I think that, this year, the opposition to Nazarbayev, they lost authority, because they could do nothing against him. And, because, I think, they have no candidate who could take [challenge] from point of influence with Nazarbayev."

Central Asia analyst Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of Moscow's Institute of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Countries, agrees the advantage goes to President Nazarbayev, who is widely favored to win the poll.

Mr. Zharikhin told VOA that a decision to put off the elections until next December, would only have given the opposition more time to consolidate its forces for change.

For now, both analysts say the opposition will mainly be struggling to assert its views before the Kazakh people in the relatively short campaign period of the next three months. They predict the poll date will in no way affect Mr. Nazarbayev, a man with the power of incumbency, unlimited funds and vast administrative resources.

Earlier this year, Kazakhstan's government banned protests immediately after elections and is reported to have stepped up repressive actions against the media and political opposition.

President Nazarbayev has ruled out the possibility of a Ukraine or Georgia-style revolution taking place in his country, saying Kazakhstan is not ready for Western-style democracy. But analyst Alexei Malashenko, of the Moscow Carnegie Center, says anything is possible.

"Don't forget, on the post-Soviet space, sometimes the situation may be unpredictable, and by the way, it was proved by [the recent] revolt in Kyrgyzstan," he said.

The opposition has decided to unify behind one candidate, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, who has said protests are possible, if the election is declared flawed by international election observers like previous polls in Kazakhstan.