Kazakhstan is electing its head of state this Sunday in an early vote aimed at confirming President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in power, less than a year after unrest was brutally suppressed by the authorities.
In January 2022, Tokayev ordered “shoot to kill” demonstrators and agitators with at least 238 dead, but now he is acting as a propagandist for renewal and national reconciliation.
These elections are the culmination of a year of intense social unrest in Kazakhstan, a resource-rich former Soviet republic in Central Asia that initially emerged from deep social inequalities. Now the 69-year-old former diplomat is promising to dedicate himself to a “new Kazakhstan” that is fairer and less corrupt.
To that end, he removed the powerful clan of influential ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev from decision-making spheres, solidifying his position three years after coming to power in 2019.
President of Kazakhstan ordered to shoot to kill protesters
In this snap presidential election, Tokayev has thwarted any pretense by the main opponents, and the 12 million or so voters called to vote today will only be able to choose between the current leader and five candidates without any prediction or credibility.
Internationally, where his authority was at rest, the head of state, up for re-election, continued his pragmatic approach through regular contacts with Russia, China and the West.
He also criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but refused to comply with US and European sanctions against Russia, Kazakhstan’s main economic partner.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have already expressed regret that their recommendations “regarding fundamental freedoms and conditions for the selection and registration of candidates” have not been followed.
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Tokayev, who came to power after Nazarbayev’s unexpected resignation in March 2019, first acknowledged the policy of succession with his predecessor and mentor, then broke with the all-powerful former president after the bloody month of January.
Demonstrating the instability that still reigns in the Asian country, the authorities announced last Thursday the arrest of seven supporters of an exiled opponent accused of involvement in plotting a “coup d’état.”