Kazakhs vote in new parliamentary elections

ASTANA – Voters in Kazakhstan went to the polls on Sunday to choose lawmakers for a lower house of parliament that is being reconfigured after deadly riots swept the resource-rich Central Asian country a year ago.

Although the field was unusually wide with two newly registered parties and hundreds of individual candidates entering the race, turnout appeared relatively low, with about 54% of eligible voters voting, according to the National Election Commission.

The snap election was held on the fourth anniversary of the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and wielded enormous influence.

Many expected his successor Kassym-Zhamart Tokayev to continue Nazarbayev’s authoritarian course and even renamed the capital to Nur-Sultan in honor of his predecessor.

But the country’s political landscape changed markedly after a wave of violence in January 2022, when provincial protests, initially sparked by rising fuel prices, spread to other cities, especially the commercial capital of Almaty, and became overtly political as demonstrators chanted “Old people out!” with reference to the now 82-year-old Nazarbayev.

More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died during a brutal police crackdown on the riots. Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful position as head of the National Security Council. He returned the capital to its former name of Astana, and parliament repealed a law that gave Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.

Takaev also initiated reforms to strengthen the parliament, reduce presidential powers and limit the presidency to one seven-year term. Under the reforms, a third of the 98 seats in the lower house of parliament will be elected in single-member elections, rather than on party lists.

The ruling Amanat party holds the vast majority of seats in the current parliament, with the rest held by parties largely loyal to Amanat.

Although opinion polls show that Amanat will remain the largest party in the new parliament, the likely final balance remains unclear. More than 400 candidates, most of whom were self-nominated, contested the single-seat contest, while the National Electoral Commission allowed two additional parties to participate in the proportional contest.

“We can only hope that these elections will contribute to the further consolidation of society and democracy, and that the idea of ​​a new and fair Kazakhstan will develop with the real participation of the population,” said Austrian Martin Saydik, a member of the organization. This was announced on Sunday by the European Security and Cooperation Election Observation Mission.

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