SOn the very day of the Kazakh presidential election, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had no doubts about the outcome. “I think that seven years will be enough,” said the incumbent, looking ahead to his next term when voting in Astana on Sunday. This is the name of Kazakhstan’s capital since September, after being renamed “Nur-Sultan” three and a half years earlier in honor of the country’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. In a referendum held in the summer, Tokayev had the mention of Nazarbayev removed from the constitution and the president’s term of office extended from five to seven years. A second term has since been ruled out. But only for the future, so that the 69-year-old Tokayev could now run for election again. That it was an early election continued a tradition begun under Nazarbayev. Seven years is “a long time in everyone’s life,” Tokayev said.
The president reacted to the unrest at the beginning of the year with the constitutional reform and the early presidential election. They were sparked by the rise in gas prices and the cost of living, and displeasure with corruption and Nazarbayev’s clanism quickly grew. Tokayev blamed “terrorists” for the riots and gave the order to shoot. At least 238 people were killed, mostly in Almaty, the largest city in south-eastern Kazakhstan. Civil society demands that the events of January be dealt with independently, but those in power refuse. This feeds many doubts that Tokayev is serious about his promise to build a “new Kazakhstan”.
Low voter turnout in the big cities
According to official figures, voter turnout in Almaty was the lowest at not even 29 percent. According to a report by the independent online medium Vlast.kz, five activists who protested “against elections without elections” on Sunday were arrested in the city after a few minutes. In Astana, voter turnout was also comparatively low, officially at 48.6 percent, although state officials were required to take a photo of their participation, as reported by the Moscow newspaper Kommersant. According to the Central Election Commission, 69.4 percent of eligible Kazakhs took part in the election.
Tokayev ran as a candidate for all parties represented in parliament. Five rather unknown candidates had been put up against him, three men and two women. More votes than any of these counting candidates received the option to vote “against all,” namely 5.8 percent. According to official figures, Tokayev received 81.3 percent of the votes. The observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spoke on Monday in Astana of a “political environment that lacks competition” and a “lack of pluralism”. The OSCE also complained that journalists had been intimidated and attacked. Voters were not sufficiently informed.
Congratulations to Putin
One of Tokayev’s first well-wishers was Nazarbayev. When voting, the eighty-two-year-old said he had already made his choice in 2019. In March of that year he presented Tokayev as his successor. His election, Nazarbayev said now, applies “to the end.” According to many observers, Tokayev was able to use the unrest at the beginning of the year to break away from Nazarbayev’s informal dominance. But the former president’s public appearances argue for informal guarantees and against a real break with the Nazarbayev era. Parliamentary elections are to be held next year, for the first time in part by majority voting. In return, more competition is promised, presumably to give an outlet to the population’s desire for change. On the night of the election, Tokayev promised to “move to a new form of political construction in the country” and called on the population to “unite”.
Vladimir Putin congratulated Tokayev on Monday on the “convincing mandate” and promised to “perfect” cooperation with Kazakhstan. In January, Russia’s President supported Tokayev with a peacekeeping mission from the ODKB defense alliance at the height of the unrest. But Kazakhstan’s president, an experienced diplomat, is continuing the traditional “multi-vector policy” with openness to all sides. Tokayev broke away from Putin in the Ukraine war. In June he announced alongside Putin that, unlike Moscow, he would not recognize the “people’s republics” in the Donbass as “states”. Otherwise there would be chaos in the world.