Kazakh president wins new term against weak opposition

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Kazakhstan's President Press Office

In this handout photo released by Kazakhstan's President Press Office, Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev casts his ballot at a polling station in Astasna, Kazakhstan, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Tokayev appears certain to win a new term against little-known challengers in a snap election on Sunday. Five candidates are on the ballot against President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who faced a bloody outburst of unrest early this year and then moved to marginalize some of the Central Asian country's longtime powerful figures. (Kazakhstan's President Press Office via AP)

ASTANA – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev easily won a new seven-year term in a snap election in which the second biggest choice by voters was to reject all six candidates, the country's central elections commission said Monday.

Tokayev received more than 81% of the votes in Sunday's election, according to elections commission chairman Nurlan Abdirov. Five candidates were on the ballot against Tokayev. Nearly 6% of voters chose the “against all” option.

With a short campaign period that began in late October, candidates had little opportunity to mount significant challenges.

Tokayev has taken steps to keep Kazakhstan’s distance from longtime ally and dominant regional power Russia.

He pointedly said the country did not recognize the Ukrainian regions that Russia declared to be sovereign states at the outset of the conflict that began in February. Kazakhstan has also taken in hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled after President Vladimir Putin issued a conscription order in September.

When Tokayev became president in 2019 following the resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev, he was widely expected to continue the authoritarian course of the man who had led the resource-rich country since it gained independence from the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev remained highly influential as head of the national security council, and the capital was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor.

Then a wave of violence arose in January, when provincial protests initially sparked by a fuel price hike engulfed other cities, notably the commercial capital, Almaty, and became overtly political as demonstrators shouted “Old man out!” in reference to Nazarbayev. More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police harshly put down the unrest.

Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his security council post. He restored the capital’s previous name of Astana, and the Parliament of Kazakhstan repealed a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.

One of Nazarbayev’s nephews, Kairat Satybaldy, in September was sentenced to six years in prison for embezzlement. Nazarbayev, after casting his vote on Sunday, said “It has to be thought that the decision of the court was just.”

Tokayev later pushed through reforms that included strengthening the parliament, reducing presidential powers and limiting the presidency to a single seven-year term.