Elections in Kazakhstan to leave the Nazarbayev era behind

This year Kazakhstan has experienced the worst political crisis since its independence.

19 November 2022 Saturday 17:30
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Elections in Kazakhstan to leave the Nazarbayev era behind

This year Kazakhstan has experienced the worst political crisis since its independence. After quelling the violent riots in January with military aid from his allies, especially Russia, President Kasim-Yomart Tokáyev accelerated reforms that seem to leave the era of Nursultan Nazarbáyev behind for good.

One of the consequences of the violence in January has been the advancement of the presidential elections, which are being held today, Sunday. With five little-known challengers, Tokayev's re-election is a sure thing. “The representatives of the oligarchy of power, associated with the previous leadership, are not distinguished by their independence, especially on such a risky issue as nominating a candidate. On the other hand, decades of sweeping away the opposition have also done their job,” historian Bolat Asanov told La Vanguardia from Almaty.

These elections are part of a long transition process that began in 2019, when Nazarbáyev left the presidency in the hands of his ally Tokáyev, while maintaining great influence.

This has evaporated this year. A rise in the price of liquefied petroleum gas, used as fuel, sparked demonstrations that turned into protests against Nazarbayev and spread to numerous cities, including Almaty. There were 230 deaths. The authorities have hinted at the involvement of members of the Nazarbayev family.

Tokáyev withdrew the former president of the Security Council, restored the name of the capital Astana (called Nursultan since 2019) and Parliament withdrew his family's immunity. The constitutional reform, approved in a referendum in June, limits the president's term in power to a single seven-year term.

Strengthened in the interior, Tokáyev has marked distances with Russia, his older brother in the region. At the start of the conflict in Ukraine he refused to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, as Moscow did.

The elections are being held in an atmosphere of freedom of expression not seen in decades. It has been noticed on social networks and among bloggers, who have great influence. Tokayev will achieve victory, but "it will be accompanied by criticism," Arkady Dubnov, an expert on Central Asia, told RBK.

Tokayev has promised to create real political competition, strengthen judicial independence and eliminate monopolies. “Businessmen close to power have impeded the development of competition. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are even poorer,” said the president.

But the elections are not the end of the road. “Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, continues to chair the Olympic Committee. Nazarbayev does not appear in the Constitution, but the law of the First President has not lost legal force. These are details that underline the complexity of the transition”, reflects Asanov.

In the television debate of the candidates, Tokáyev was absent, represented by his ally Erlan Koshanov, president of the Mazhilís (Lower House). None of his five rivals raised substantial criticism, which raises many doubts. “We are seeing a reboot of the political system with cosmetic updates, not a true reformatting,” political scientist Talgat Ismagambétov told Eurasianet.org.



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