Kazakhstan elects former ruler’s chosen candidate as its new president
Unprecedented protests that broke out in the country’s two capitals were swiftly dealt with by the authorities
Almaty — Kazakhs elected former leader Nursultan Nazarbayev’s favoured successor as president, signaling political continuity in central Asia’s biggest energy producer.
Amid an unusual flare-up of street protests in Kazakhstan’s two biggest cities, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won Sunday’s vote with 71%, defeating six other candidates, according to a central election commission statement broadcast by state TV, which put turnout at 77.4%.
Tokayev, 66, will be only the second president since Kazakhstan gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nazarbayev, who took power in 1989, began a long-expected transfer of power in March when he resigned as president in favour of Tokayev, who was head of the senate and called the early election in a bid to ratify his mandate.
With Nazarbayev, 78, seeking to install his hand-picked candidate, police detained about 500 protesters on Sunday in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, said Marat Kozhayev, first deputy minister for internal affairs. Protests continued on Monday, with police detaining about 30 people in Almaty, Vlast news website reported. The spokesperson for Almaty police department was not immediately available for comment.
“The protests were unprecedented for Kazakhstan and new demonstrations cannot be ruled out,” said George Voloshin, a Paris-based analyst at Aperio Intelligence. “However, the authorities have shown their preparedness to deal with them speedily, if need be in a brutal way.”
The election should not be a “battlefield” or “a trigger for confrontation,” the presidential press service quoted Tokayev as saying after he cast his ballot.
Nazarbayev, whom the Kazakh parliament declared leader-for-life in the country of 18-million people, retains key powers as head of the national security council. He also leads the ruling Nur Otan party, which has an overwhelming majority in parliament. His daughter Dariga became head of the senate in place of Tokayev.
Shortly before he stepped down, Nazarbayev ordered billions of dollars in extra spending after acknowledging public discontent with “flat-lining” incomes. He also replaced the cabinet and the central bank chief, accusing ministers of failing to implement programmes effectively to improve living standards hit by a slide in the currency when oil prices tumbled in 2015.
Tokayev, a former Soviet career diplomat, has served as Kazakh foreign minister and prime minister under Nazarbayev. He was UN deputy secretary-general for more than two years from 2011, returning to Kazakhstan in 2013 to become head of the senate. While he was more than 50 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival in the election, Tokayev’s result pales in comparison to the 97.7% Nazarbayev received in 2015.