Kazakhstan votes in snap parliamentary polls

Monday, Mar 20, 2023

ASTANA, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan on Sunday voted in snap parliamentary polls that saw new faces on the ballot, but opposition parties still barred one year after deadly protests shook the Central Asian country.

The huge, oil-rich nation is wedged between its former Soviet master Russia and China, which is gaining status in Central Asia as an economic powerhouse. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the early vote as part of a “modernisation” drive introduced months after protests against fuel prices erupted in January last year. They were brutally crushed and 238 people died, according to the official toll.

Tokayev, a former diplomat, was hand-picked in 2019 by his predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev to take the helm after a nearly three-decade rule. But Tokayev purged vestiges of that era after the demonstrations. Both Tokayev and Nazarbayev were seen casting their vote on Sunday morning.

Polling stations in the ex-Soviet country, which expected some 12 million voters to cast their ballot, had closed with preliminary results expected at 1800 GMT. “As independent candidates are admitted, I think the electoral system is changing for the better,” nurse Irina Reshetnik, 58, told AFP at a polling station in the capital Astana.

But Ernest Serikov, an 81-year-old retired professor in Kazakhstan´s largest city Almaty, said he supports the president and called the elections “experimental”. Independent candidates were allowed to run for parliament for the first time in nearly 20 years, whereas the previous lower house was made up of three pro-government parties. The threshold to enter the 98-seat legislature has been lowered to five percent and a 30 percent quota was introduced for women, young people and people with disabilities.

In total, seven parties participated in this election. Two of them were recently registered, but several opposition parties and independent candidates were banned. During the day, food and drink were offered outside some polling stations in Almaty to celebrate the upcoming Nowruz holiday, an AFP reporter saw.

President Tokayev promised to reform government institutions and in January dissolved parliament, saying early polls would “give new impetus to the modernisation”. Political scientist Dimash Alzhanov said the ruling elites remain in control of the votes, despite the changes.