Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) (AFP)
Voters went to parliamentary polls in Kazakhstan on Sunday, with the ruling party set to win a big victory and the oil-rich country’s only recorded opposition force boycotting the poll.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 67, had promised gradual political reform in the authoritarian Central Asian country since he was relaxed in his post by Nursultan Nazarbayev, who called time for nearly three decades to head of state in early 2019.
But Nazarbayev, 80, retains powerful positions, notably the chairmanship of the Nur Otan party which controls the lower house and has 800,000 members out of a population of 19 million.
The party is expected to win a dominant majority in lower house polls featuring four other competing parties seen as proxies.
The only party that presents itself as the opposition, the National Social Democratic Party (NSDP), excluded itself from the contest in November, calling the movement a “protest” against a rigged system.
The former Soviet country never held elections deemed free or fair by Western vote-watchers.
Most residents of the capital Nur-Sultan interviewed by AFP said they planned not to vote due to either freezing cold or the lack of real alternatives to Nur Otan.
Sonya Sartayeva, a retiree, said she would vote “if they brought an urn to my house” as temperatures hovered well below zero throughout the week.
She added that the rise in coronavirus cases – which climbed to more than 161,000 on the eve of the vote – was also a concern.
The most notable candidate on the ballot is Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, 57, who represents Nur Otan.
Her return to politics comes barely eight months after Tokayev fired her from the post of president of the Senate – a role that places the occupant second after the presidency.
The dismissal, which has not been explained, has sparked speculation about a power struggle within Kazakhstan’s leadership.
But the new president regularly praises his mentor’s accomplishments and is committed to pursuing his strategic path. The two showed up together at a Nur Otan party congress in November.
– “Useless show”? –
Madiyar, an 18-year-old student at Nur-Sultan, said she and her friends would likely not take advantage of their first opportunity to vote on Sunday.
“We doubt our voice will be heard. I don’t think there will be any significant changes after the vote, ”the student, who asked that her last name not be disclosed, told AFP.
The World Bank estimated that Kazakhstan’s economy shrank 2.5% in 2020 as it grappled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – a first year-over-year recession in two decades .
But stifling authoritarianism left little way to express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The NSDP has faced the ruling party in the last three parliamentary votes, missing the legislature each time.
The party’s decision not to participate in the next election comes as long-time regime enemy and fugitive France-based banker Mukhtar Ablyazov called on opposition activists to vote for the NSDP, even as he questioned his credentials in the opposition.
After the NSDP withdrew from the ballot, Ablyazov called on activists to campaign for the pro-government Ak Zhol party to reduce Nur Otan’s grip on power.
At the end of last month, two opposition activists from the northeastern town of Semey were fined around $ 100 each by a court for distributing photocopies of leaflets to ‘Ak Zhol.
The court said they did so “without (Ak Zhol’s) stated permission,” according to the verdicts seen by AFP – one of many instances where authorities have cracked down on the campaign.
Talgat Mamiraimov, a political commentator based in the country’s largest city, Almaty, called Sunday’s parliamentary vote a “pointless spectacle”.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 a.m. and closed at 8:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. GMT) with a state-approved exit poll scheduled for later Sunday evening.
© 2021 AFP