Kazakhs elected former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s favoured successor as president, signalling political continuity in central Asia’s biggest energy producer even as street protests flared and international observers attacked the conduct of the vote.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won the ballot with 71 percent, defeating six other candidates, according to a central election commission statement broadcast by state TV, which put turnout at 77.4 percent. Police arrested more protesters on Monday, Kazakh media reported, after hundreds of demonstrators were detained in a rare eruption of dissent during the vote.
The election “was tarnished by clear violations of fundamental freedoms as well as pressure on critical voices,” observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wrote in a report. “Significant irregularities were observed on election day, including cases of ballot box stuffing, and a disregard of counting procedures meant that an honest count could not be guaranteed.”
Tokayev, 66, will be only the second president since Kazakhstan gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nazarbayev, who took power in 1989, began a long-expected transfer of power in March when he resigned as president in favour of Tokayev, who was head of the senate and called the early election in a bid to ratify his mandate.
With Nazarbayev, 78, seeking to install his hand-picked candidate, police detained about 500 protesters in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, said Marat Kozhayev, first deputy minister for internal affairs. Police detained about 50 people on Monday at protests in Almaty, Vlast news website reported. The spokeswoman for Almaty police department wasn’t immediately available for comment.
“The protests were unprecedented for Kazakhstan and new demonstrations cannot be ruled out,” said George Voloshin, a Paris-based analyst at Aperio Intelligence Ltd.
“However, the authorities have shown their preparedness to deal with them speedily, if need be in a brutal way.”
The election shouldn’t be a “battlefield” or “a trigger for confrontation,” the presidential press service quoted Tokayev as saying after he cast his ballot.
Nazarbayev, whom the Kazakh parliament declared leader-for-life in the nation of 18 million people, retains key powers as head of the national security council. He also leads the ruling Nur Otan party, which has an overwhelming majority in parliament. His daughter Dariga became head of the senate in place of Tokayev.
Shortly before he stepped down, Nazarbayev ordered billions of dollars in extra spending after acknowledging public discontent with “flat-lining” incomes. Tokayev, a former Soviet career diplomat, has served as Kazakh foreign minister and PM under Nazarbayev.