Kazakhstan has voted in an early parliamentary election, expected to deliver a sweeping victory to the party of strongman President Nazarbayev. He urged other states "not to rush" the nation's journey to democracy.
Over 77 percent of nearly 10 million voters cast their ballots on Sunday, setting a new turnout record, the country's Central Election Committee reported.
Kazakhstan's longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev praised the election as a "milestone," hinting at possible changes in the former Soviet state which is firmly ruled by his Nur Otan party.
An exit poll stated that Nur Otan won 82 percent of the vote, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.
"We have a presidential system," Nazarbayev said after voting in the capital Astana."We could talk about a redistribution of power between different branches - the presidency, parliament and the executive."
Nazarbayev, who has been in power since the break-up of the former Soviet Union in 1991, won a new five year term last year with 98 percent of the vote. Observers have accused his administration of cracking down on dissidents and controlling the media.
On Sunday, the president called on other countries "not to rush" Kazakhstan on its journey towards democracy.
"This is Asia," he said. "We have different relationships - family relationships, a different religion and different opportunities between people."
The economy in energy-rich Kazakhstan had risen sharply under Nazarbayev's rule. However, the recent plummeting of world oil prices dimmed the nation's prospects and caused inflation to spiral, wiping out 30 percent of the currency's value over the last year.
According to some analysts, Nazarbayev's decision to call for early election was motivated by the crisis, as its effects could grow worse in the coming months.
'Clones' crowding the ballot
Out of six parties on the Sunday ballot, three are already in the government and two are loyal to Nazarbayev. The remaining Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) considers itself to be the opposition.
Ahead of the vote, the NSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay described his election rivals as "clones" of Nazarbayev's Nur Otan.
"Kazakhstan's political system is a vertical chain of power based around the cult of personality of one person," he told the AFP news agency.
dj/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Interfax)