Kazakhstan's electoral commission indicated that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will most likely remain in charge of Central Asia's largest country following a snap election Sunday against five little-known but government-approved challengers.
Preliminary results showed that Tokayev had won a landslide victory with 81.31% of the vote, in line with earlier exit polls that had given him between 82.2% and 85.5% of the ballots.
"The people have clearly expressed their confidence in me and we have to justify it," 69-year-old Tokayev said as the results emerged.
According to the exit polls, the runner-up had managed barely 5% of the vote.
Tokayev called Sunday's presidential election in September.
Tokayev's rise to power
The vote comes after deadly unrest shook the Central Asian country and left more than 230 people dead earlier this year.
Since then, Tokayev has unveiled reforms that included strengthening the parliament, reducing presidential powers, and limiting the presidency to a single seven-year term. This means he could stay in office until 2029 if he wins Sunday's election.
But tensions persist in the country, as evidenced by seven people being arrested on Thursday charged with an attempted coup.
Tokayev took office from Kazakhstan's first post-Soviet president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 2019. After unusually long-running protests against the government, Nazarbayev said the country needed a "new generation of leaders." Tokayev was speaker of parliament at the time and considered Nazabayev's handpicked successor.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have criticized Kazakhstan's failure to meet electoral recommendations, including "conditions of eligibility and registration of candidates."
Tension with Russia over Ukraine
The International Monetary Fund has warned of the persistent risk of instability, as Kazakhstan's economy is heavily dependent on Russia and is suffering from the impact of the war in Ukraine as a result.
Tokayev has criticized Moscow's invasion of Ukraine but stopped short of joining Western sanctions on Russia.
He has, however, also refused to recognize referendums with which Russia claimed to have annexed some Ukrainian regions.
Kazakhstan has also taken in hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled after President Vladimir Putin issued a conscription order in September.
One senior government official told the Reuters news agency a resounding election win for Tokayev could embolden him to further distance himself from Russia.
ab, ar, lo/jcg (AP, AFP, Reuters)