ALMATY, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won a landslide victory in snap elections on Sunday, exit polls showed, consolidating his grip on power less than a year after ousting his long-ruling predecessor Nursultan. Nazarbayev.
The former diplomat, who took office as Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor in 2019 when the Central Asian nation’s only ruler since the Soviet era stepped down, broke with his former patron after Tokayev called off a coup attempt following a January coup.
The fresh election victory – polls showed him winning between 82% and 85% of the vote – gives Tokayev, 69, an enormous personal mandate, something Nazarbayev has routinely acquired as he has built a cult of personality over five consecutive terms.
Nazarbayev, who held key posts after stepping down, relinquished them earlier this year during a coup that killed 238 people. Tokayev then forced Nazarbayev’s allies to abandon other positions and changed the name of the capital – renamed “Nur-Sultan” in Nazarbayev’s honor – back to Astana.
Tokayev called on Russia’s help to quell the January unrest, but kept his distance from Moscow by avoiding public support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, and Russia’s recession has hurt its neighboring economies, while the ruble’s strength, boosted by capital controls, has helped push inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high.
Tokaev, a former foreign minister and United Nations deputy secretary-general, has overseen constitutional reforms that limit his own administration to two terms. He has promised to reduce income inequality in the country of 19 million people by rooting out corruption and redistributing wealth more fairly.
A presidential election was originally scheduled for late 2024, but was postponed following the January unrest and subsequent constitutional referendum. Tokayev said on Sunday he would continue to “reset” the political system by calling early parliamentary elections next year. Tokaev left the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms to make it easier to establish new political parties.
Polls predict that none of the other five candidates will score in double digits in Sunday’s vote.
“Among those running for president, I know only Tokayev, first of all,” said Timurlan Sadikov, a resident of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, on the eve of the vote.
“And secondly, the way he has performed on the international stage is very impressive.”
Another Almaty voter, a 35-year-old manager who gave only his first name Serik, said he voted against all candidates.
“…I think the powers that be have to realize that they haven’t given us a real choice,” he said.
Police arrested a few dozen people in Almaty who staged small-scale protests against the vote, according to opposition groups and local media. Some have been released soon, while others are facing misdemeanor charges, police said.
By the time polling stations closed across Kazakhstan at 9pm local time, 69.4% of voters had cast their ballots, the Central Election Commission said. Preliminary results of the vote are expected on Monday.
By Tamara Wall (Reporting by Oljas Ayezov and Maria Gordeyeva) In Astana Editing by Peter Graf, Frances Kerry, Alexander Smith and Paul Simao
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