ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was on course to win a landslide victory in snap elections Sunday, according to opinion polls, consolidating his grip on power less than a year after sidelining his predecessor, Nursultan. Nazarbayev.
The former diplomat, who took power in 2019 as the hand-picked successor to Nazarbayev when the Central Asian country’s sole ruler since Soviet times stepped down, broke with his former patron after the January uprising that Tokayev described as a coup attempt.
A new electoral victory — polls show him winning between 82% and 85% of the vote — would give Tokayev, 69, the kind of crushing personal mandate that Nazarbayev routinely secured as he built a cult of personality over five consecutive terms.
Nazarbayev, who held important posts after stepping down, abandoned them during the uprising early this year in which 238 people were killed. Since then, Tokayev has forced Nazarbayev’s allies to give up other positions, and changed the name of the capital – which was renamed “Nur-Sultan” in Nazarbayev’s honor – to Astana.
Tokayev sought Russian help to quell the January unrest, but has kept his distance from Moscow ever since, avoiding public support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, and Russia’s slide into recession has hurt its neighbor’s economy, while the strength of the ruble, buoyed by capital controls, has helped push inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high.
Tokayev, a former foreign minister and deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, has overseen constitutional reforms that limit his rule to two terms. He also promised to reduce income inequality by rooting out corruption and redistributing wealth more fairly in the country of 19 million people.
Presidential elections were scheduled for late 2024, but were postponed after the January unrest and subsequent constitutional referendum. On Sunday, Tokayev said he would continue to “reset” the political system by calling early parliamentary elections next year. Tokayev resigned from the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms that facilitated the creation of new political parties.
Polls predicted that none of the other five candidates would score in the double digits in Sunday’s vote.
“Among those running for president, I know only Tokayev first,” Tamerlan Sadykov, a resident of Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, said on the eve of the vote.
“And secondly, the way he has conducted himself on the international stage has been very attractive.”
Another voter from Almaty, a 35-year-old manager who gave only his first name, Serik, said he had voted against all the candidates.
“…I think the powers that be should realize they haven’t given us any real choice,” he said.
Police have arrested a few dozen people in Almaty who staged small-scale protests against the vote, calling it illegal, according to opposition groups and local media. Police said some of them were released soon, while others are facing misdemeanor charges.
By the time polling stations closed across Kazakhstan at 9 p.m. local time, 69.4% of voters had cast ballots, the Central Election Commission said. Preliminary results of the vote are expected on Monday.
Additional reporting by Ulzas Uezov and Maria Gordeeva Additional reporting by Tamara Fall in Astana Editing by Peter Graf, Frances Kerry, Alexander Smith and Paul Simao
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