Kazakhs vote in new competitive parliamentary elections
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Voters in Kazakhstan headed to the polls on Sunday to choose lawmakers for the lower house of parliament, which is being reconfigured following the deadly unrest that rocked the resource-rich Central Asian nation a year ago. .
Although the electoral field was unusually wide with two newly registered parties and hundreds of individual candidates joining the race, turnout appeared relatively unenthusiastic – around 54% of eligible voters cast their ballots, according to the national election commission.
The snap election came on the fourth anniversary of the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and had established immense influence.
It was expected that his successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, would continue Nazarbayev’s authoritarian course and even rename the capital Nur-Sultan in honor of his predecessor.
But the country’s political landscape changed dramatically after a wave of violence in January 2022, when provincial protests initially sparked by a fuel price hike engulfed other cities, including the commercial capital, Almaty, and turned overtly political. as protesters shouted “Old man out! in reference to Nazarbayev, now 82 years old.
More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police cracked down hard on the unrest. Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful post as head of the National Security Council. He restored the capital’s former name, Astana, and parliament repealed a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.
Tokayev also launched reforms to strengthen parliament, reduce presidential powers and limit the presidency to a single seven-year term. Under the reforms, a third of the 98 seats in the lower house of parliament will be chosen in single-mandate races rather than by party list.
The ruling Amanat party holds the overwhelming majority of seats in the current parliament and the rest are held by parties largely loyal to Amanat.
Although opinion polls indicate that Amanat will remain the largest party in the new parliament, the likely end result is unclear. More than 400 mostly self-proclaimed candidates participated in the single-mandate races, and the national electoral commission allowed two additional parties to participate in the proportional vote.
“We can only hope that these elections will contribute to the consolidation of society, of democracy, and that the idea of a new and just Kazakhstan will develop with the real participation of the population,” said the Austrian. Martin Sajdik, member of the Organization. for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Election Observation Mission said on Sunday.