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Kazakhstan elects new leader amid protest

June 9, 2019

The designated successor of former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has won the presidency in a vote overshadowed by the arrests of more than 500 protesters. Nazarbayev stepped down in March after decades in power.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
Image: Getty Images/AFP//V. Oseledko

The handpicked successor of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected to the presidency on Sunday in a vote marred by clashes between protesters and police.

The electoral commission said that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a career diplomat, had won with 70.8% of the vote. The candidate with the next highest vote share, opposition rival Amirzhan Kossanov, won around 15%.

Turnout was at about 77%, according to the national elections commission.

Read more: Historic Kazakhstan election sparks hope for a taste of democracy

Tokayev, 66, became interim president in March after the resignation of Nazarbayev, who had ruled the country since Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Yet Nazarbayev, who holds the official title of national leader, is set to exert significant influence on day-to-day politics as leader of the ruling Nur Otan party.

As he voted, Tokayev said Nazarbayev was "still in power in the capacity of chairman of the security council ... and other capacities."

Read more: Could Kazakhstan be a model for a power transfer in Russia?

Kazakhstan activists call for free elections

Opposition arrests

Throughout the day, police detained some 500 people in Almaty and Nur-Sultan — the capital city recently renamed after Nazarbayev — as they protested for voters to boycott what they see as a fixed election.

Deputy Interior Minister Marat Kozhayev said the arrests were necessary because "radical elements" had held "unsanctioned" rallies.

Tokayev pledged his administration would be "building up a dialogue with all those who support the government and those who are against the government."

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev speaks during a televised address to inform of his resignation in Astana, Kazakhstan March 19, 2019.
Nazarbayev was Kazakhstan's president from 1991 to 2019Image: Reuters/Handout Kazakh Presidential Press Service

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police raided the homes of opposition figures and courts sentenced anti-government protesters to short prison stays.

No vote in the Central Asian country has yet been recognized as fully democratic by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more than 300 observers to monitor Sunday's election.

Kazakhstan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a free trade bloc that also includes Russia and Belarus.

amp/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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