As Kazakhstan votes, strongman Nazarbayev tipped for fresh term
ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN // Millions of Kazakhs cast their votes on Sunday in the energy-rich Central Asian country in a ballot that will almost certainly re-elect the incumbent president Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The marginalised opposition has not put forward any candidates for the election and Mr Nazarbayev is standing against two candidates widely seen as pro-government figures.
By midday local time, 41 per cent of the 9.5 million electorate had voted at over 9,000 polling stations across the country, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Mr Nazarbayev, 74, cast his ballot to loud applause in the capital Astana.
“I am sure Kazakhs will vote primarily for stability,” he said.
He has ruled the country since before the break-up of the USSR in 1991. If he wins a new five-year term, he will be on course to reach three decades as leader.
One of the candidates standing against Mr Nazarbayev, Turgun Syzdykov, a 68-year-old former provincial official, has campaigned on an antiglobalisation platform, railing against Hollywood, hamburgers and computer games. He represents the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan.
The other candidate, Abelgazy Kusainov, 63, who has held several important governmental positions and currently heads the national federation of trade unions, is standing as an independent after running a campaign touching on Kazakhstan’s environmental problems.
Senate leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, making little effort to conceal who he had voted for, stressed the importance of implementing programmes of state reform directly associated with Mr Nazarbayev.
“Today we vote for the prosperity and progress of Kazakhstan,” he said.
“This is not an election, it is a re-election,” said Dosym Saptaev, director of the Kazakhstan Risks Assessment Group, a think tank based in the largest city Almaty.
“The significance of the event is no more than the fact that it may well be Nazarbayev’s last.”
An Ipsos MORI poll released on Tuesday showed 91 per cent of Kazakhstanis are satisfied with Mr Nazarbayev’s rule.
Economic issues have come to the forefront in the most prosperous of the five Central Asian states, all former Soviet republics.
Botagoz Seidakhmetova, a popular radio presenter, said she had voted for Mr Nazarbayev.
“There is not another worthy candidate. We are a Central Asian state. We like stability. A new ruler means a new direction,” she said.
The vast, steppe-dominated country bordering both Russia and China has never held an election deemed free and fair by international monitors.
Mr Nazarbayev won a 2011 election with 95.5 per cent of the vote. Sunday’s ballot, called a year ahead of schedule, is the fifth he has contested.
In its interim report on the vote, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) raised concerns about Mr Nazarbayev’s “institutional advantage”.
While Mr Nazarbayev’s posters and billboards were visible throughout the country, the other two candidates have distributed almost no campaign materials, the OSCE said.
The OSCE has sent almost 300 observers to the vote.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: April 26, 2015 04:00 AM