ALMATY: Kazakhstan’s outgoing leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emerged, as expected, as the clear winner of Sunday’s (Nov 20) presidential election in Central Asia’s largest country, months after deadly unrest.
Three exit polls gave Tokayev between 82.2 per cent and 85.5 per cent of the popular vote, a widely expected result given there was no real opposition on the ballot.
Despite posters calling on voters to “make their choice” for the next seven years, Tokayev’s five opponents were little more than stooges.
The runner-up to Tokayev had managed just 5.2 per cent of the vote, according to the exit polls.
The electoral commission gave an estimated turnout of 69 per cent among the 12 million eligible voters.
“The people have clearly expressed their confidence in me and we have to justify it,” 69-year-old Tokayev said as the results emerged.
Rich in natural resources and located at the crossroads of important trade routes, Kazakhstan sank into chaos during protests over high living costs in January, which left 238 dead.
Tokayev – once a steady hand, if generally considered lacking charisma – showed a ruthless side earlier this year by violently suppressing protests.
While Kazakhstan has since stabilised, tensions persist, as shown by the arrest on Thursday of seven opposition supporters accused of an attempted coup.
Police on Sunday detained around 15 protesters demanding free and fair elections in the country’s largest city Almaty, AFP journalists witnessed.
An interior ministry spokesman confirmed the figure to AFP.
Sunday’s election was a chance for Tokayev to consolidate his grip on power.
Hoping to turn over a new leaf after a turbulent year, Tokayev had said he was seeking a “new mandate of trust from the people” in this election.
After voting early on Sunday in the capital Astana, he said “the main thing is that there is no monopoly of power”.
AFP journalists saw voters taking selfies in front of the polling stations in Astana and the economic hub of Almaty.
Many said they would be “required” to show such photos when they returned to work on Monday.
Critics are still sidelined and all five of Tokayev’s competitors are virtually unknown.
This left 19-year-old student Alya Bokechova thinking that going to the polls “would be a waste of time”.
“We already know who will win and we don’t know the other candidates,” she told AFP.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticised Kazakhstan’s failure to meet electoral recommendations, including “conditions of eligibility and registration of candidates”.
HOPING FOR A CHANGE
But Tokayev’s promises of democratic and economic reforms resonated with some voters.
Police officer Nurlan N said: “Since independence 30 years ago, almost nothing changed, I would like to see some significant changes.”
Casting her ballot in Almaty, 68-year-old pensioner Murzada Massalina said “Tokayev is the suitable candidate because he has a lot of experience.”
Tokayev came to power in 2019 after winning 70 per cent of the vote in an election whose outcome was inevitable after he obtained the backing of former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev.
For the following two-and-a-half years, he played a role of loyal protege.
That changed after protests erupted in January and Tokayev ordered law enforcement to “shoot to kill” demonstrators.
Tokayev distanced himself from his former mentor Nazarbayev, purged his clan from positions of authority and promised a “new and just Kazakhstan”.
He announced reforms, a constitutional referendum and introduced single presidential terms of seven years.
CONGRATULATIONS FROM NAZABAYEV
Nazarbayev, who led Kazakhstan for three decades, was the first to congratulate Tokayev on his re-election. It was, he said, “unquestionable proof of the people’s unshakeable faith in (his) reforms”.
Nazarbayev praised his attitude “at critical times” for the country, a reference to the events earlier this year.
Tokayev also stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine shocked former Soviet republics.
The offensive reawakened Kazakh concerns that Moscow may have ambitions on the north of the country, home to three million ethnic Russians.
In response, Tokayev strengthened his country’s ties not only with China, but also with Europe.
The leaders of Turkey and China visited Kazakhstan, as did high-ranking European officials and Pope Francis just this year.
Tokayev clashed with Putin on a visit to Saint Petersburg in June.
Moscow’s move to recognise Ukrainian separatist regions – that it has since claimed to annex – would “lead to chaos”, he said.