Kazakhstan votes in early elections a year after deadly unrest
Voters in Kazakhstan will go to the polls on Sunday and cast their ballot in a snap election, the first since deadly restlessness captured the resource-rich Central Asian nation a year ago.
The vote comes after a short but active campaign for seats in the newly constituted lower house of parliament and comes on the third anniversary of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation as president.
Nazarbayev had led Kazakhstan and built immense influence since gaining independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. His successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was widely expected to continue Nazarbayev’s authoritarian course and even renamed the capital Nur-Sultan in honor of his predecessor.
But the country’s political landscape has changed significantly after a spate of violence in January 2022, when provincial protests initially sparked by a hike in fuel prices swept other cities, notably the commercial capital Almaty, and turned openly political as protesters shouted “Dude out!” shouted. in relation to Nazarbayev.
More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police brutally cracked down on the riots.
Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful post as head of the National Security Council. He restored the capital, Astana, to its former name, and parliament repealed a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.
Tokayev also introduced reforms to strengthen parliament, limit the president’s powers and limit the presidency to a seven-year term. As part of the reforms, a third of the 98 seats in the lower house of parliament will be elected individually rather than from party lists.
Tokayev’s Amanat party holds the overwhelming majority of seats in the current parliament, with the remainder held by parties largely loyal to Amanat. Although opinion polls suggest that Amanat will remain the strongest party in the new parliament, the expected final record is unclear.
More than 400 candidates, most of whom are self-nominated, are competing in the single-seat races, and the National Electoral Commission has admitted two more parties to participate in the proportional competition.
Expanded competition appears to have fueled voters.
Although the election campaign was only allowed to start in mid-February, “the campaign so far appears to be lively, particularly online and in the constituencies with one mandate and a large number of candidates,” according to an assessment by the Election Observation Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe .
The candidates have raised a wide range of issues, including further political reform, housing and rising food prices, and the country shows no clear path forward. But many are encouraged by the expanded choice.
“There is hope that the forthcoming parliamentary elections, to be held under the new mixed voting system, will bring changes and facilitate democratization and political liberalization in Kazakhstan,” wrote analyst Assel Nussopova for the Astana Times newspaper.