ALMATY, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was on course for a landslide victory in a snap election on Sunday, according to exit polls, tightening his grip on power less than a year after his long-ruling predecessor Nursultan sidelined Nazarbayev.
The former diplomat, who came to power in 2019 as Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor when the Central Asian country’s only ruler since the Soviet era stepped down, broke with his ex-patron after a January uprising that saw Tokayev launch an attempted coup. mentioned.
Another electoral win — polls showed him winning between 82% and 85% of the vote — will give the 69-year-old Tokayev the kind of overwhelming personal mandate that Nazarbayev routinely acquired as he built a personality cult for five consecutive terms.
Nazarbayev, who had held important posts after his resignation, gave them up during the uprising early this year that killed 238 people. Tokayev has since forced Nazarbayev allies to give up other positions, and changed the capital’s name — renamed “Nur-Sultan” in Nazarbayev’s honor — back to Astana.
Tokayev enlisted Russian help to quell the unrest in January, but has since kept his distance from Moscow to avoid public support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, and Russia’s slide into recession has hurt its neighbour’s economy, while the strength of the ruble, boosted by capital controls, has driven inflation in Kazakhstan to its highest level in 14 years.
Tokayev, a former foreign minister and deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, has overseen constitutional reforms that limit his own rule to two terms in office. He has also pledged to reduce income inequality by eradicating corruption and redistributing wealth more equitably in the country of 19 million.
The presidential election was originally scheduled for late 2024, but was pushed back after January’s unrest and a subsequent constitutional referendum. Tokayev said on Sunday he would continue to “reset” the political system by calling early parliamentary elections next year. Tokayev left the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms that made it easier to create new political parties.
Opinion polls have predicted that none of the other five candidates would score in the double digits on Sunday.
“First of all, of those running for president, I only know Tokayev,” Timerlan Sadykov, a resident of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, said on the eve of the vote.
“And secondly, the way he has behaved on the international stage is very attractive.”
Another voter from Almaty, a 35-year-old manager who gave only his first name, Serik, said he voted against all candidates.
“…I think those in power need to realize they haven’t given us a real choice,” he said.
Police arrested several dozen people in Almaty for small-scale protests against the vote, calling it illegal, according to opposition groups and local media. Police said some were quickly released, while others were charged with misdemeanor.
By the time Kazakhstan’s polling stations closed at 9pm local time, 69.4% of voters had cast their votes, the Central Election Commission said. The provisional result of the vote is expected on Monday.
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva Additional reporting by Tamara Vall at Astana Edited by Peter Graff, Frances Kerry, Alexander Smith and Paul Simao
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.