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Kazakhstan's ruling party poised to win early election

March 19, 2023

Kazakhstan's early parliamentary elections, which are widely expected to cement President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's grip on power.

A voter casts his ballot in Almaty
A man votes during parliamentary elections in AlmatyImage: Ruslan Pryanikov/AFP

Early parliamentary elections were held in Kazakhstan on Sunday. 

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the early vote as part of a "modernization" drive introduced months after protests against fuel prices erupted in January last year.

The demonstrations were heavily repressed and 238 people died, according to the official toll.

Exit polls suggested Tokayev's ruling Amanat party would claim 53-54% of the vote, enough to retain a comfortable majority in parliament as expected. Voter turnout was 54.2%, according to the Central Election Commission.

Despite receiving Moscow's backing during the 2022 unrest, Tokayev has refused to support Russia's invasion of Ukraine or recognize its annexation of some Ukrainian territories.

At the same time, Astana is trying to maintain good relationships with both Moscow, its neighbor and major trading partner, and the West, which seeks to isolate Russia.

Promises of democratization

In the run-up to the elections, Tokayev initiated several reforms and promised a process of democratization. As a result, all 98 members of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament are now directly elected.

International election observers have praised some of the innovations, such as the lowering of the threshold for entering parliament from 7% to 5%, the admission of non-party candidates, and a 30 percent quota for women, young people and people with disabilities.

But they have also criticized a lack of press freedom and freedom of speech. However, for the first time in almost two decades, several opposition figures were running as independents, a move which may allow some government critics to win a limited number of seats.

Almaty picks up the pieces after riots

Tokayev's path to power

Although he formally became president in 2019, Tokayev had remained in the shadow of his predecessor and former patron Nursultan Nazarbayev until January 2022, when the two fell out in the midst of violent unrest in the country.

Tokayev sidelined Nazarbayev, after suppressing the protests and had a number of his associates removed from senior positions in the public sector, some of whom later faced corruption charges. Tokayev was reelected in November 2022.

While Tokayev has reshuffled the government, the lower house of parliament, which was elected when Nazarbayev still had sweeping powers, was not due for election until 2026, so the Kazakh president called a snap vote.

Unlike Nazarbayev, Tokayev has chosen not to lead the ruling Nur Otan party, rebranded Amanat, but polls show it is likely to retain a comfortable parliamentary majority and form the core of his support base in the legislature, especially in the absence of strong opposition parties on the ballot.

dh/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)