Tokayev re-elected in Kazakhstan presidential election landslide

Tokayev won with an estimated turnout of 69 per cent among 12 million eligible voters

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev casts his ballot in Almaty on Sunday. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev emerged, as expected, the clear winner of Kazakhstan's presidential election on Sunday, months after deadly unrest.

As was widely expected, three exit polls gave him between 82.2 per cent and 85.5 per cent of the vote.

Mr Tokayev's five opponents were no real competition, despite posters during the election calling on voters to "make their choice" for the next seven years.

The runner-up managed only 5.2 per cent of the vote, exit polls showed.

The electoral commission gave an estimated turnout of 69 per cent among the 12 million eligible voters.

"The people have clearly expressed their confidence in me and we have to justify it," Mr Tokayev, 69, said as the results emerged.

Rich in natural resources and at the crossroads of important trade routes, Kazakhstan sank into chaos during protests over high living costs in January, which left 238 dead.

Mr Tokayev — once a steady hand even if generally considered to be lacking charisma — showed a ruthless side this year by suppressing the protests.

While Kazakhstan has since stabilised, tension persists, as shown by the arrest on Thursday of seven opposition supporters accused of an attempted coup.

Police on Sunday detained about 15 protesters demanding free and fair elections in the country's largest city Almaty, AFP reported.

Members of a local electoral commission empty a ballot box at a polling station after Kazakhstan's presidential elections in Astana on Sunday. AFP

Sunday's election was a chance for Mr Tokayev to consolidate his grip on power.

Hoping to turn over a new leaf after a turbulent year, he said he was seeking a "new mandate of trust from the people" in this election.

"The main thing is that there is no monopoly of power," Mr Tokayev said after voting early on Sunday in the capital Astana.

Voters took selfies in front of the polling stations in Astana and Almaty, and many said they would be "required" to show such photos when they returned to work on Monday.

Critics are still sidelined and all five of Mr Tokayev's competitors are virtually unknown.

This left student Alya Bokechova, 19, thinking that going to the polls "would be a waste of time".

"We already know who will win and we don't know the other candidates," Ms Bokechova told AFP.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticised Kazakhstan's failure to meet electoral recommendations, including "conditions of eligibility and registration of candidates".

But Mr Tokayev's promises of democratic and economic reforms resonated with some voters.

"Since independence 30 years ago, almost nothing changed. I would like to see some significant changes," police officer Nurlan N said.

Casting her ballot in Almaty, pensioner Murzada Massalina, 68, said: "Tokayev is the suitable candidate because he has a lot of experience."

A family at a polling station in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Sunday. AP

Mr Tokayev came to power in 2019 after winning 70 per cent of the vote. That election result was inevitable after he obtained the backing of former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev.

For the next two-and-a-half years, he played a role of loyal protege.

But after the protests erupted in January, Mr Tokayev ordered police to "shoot to kill" demonstrators.

He distanced himself from his former mentor, purged his clan from positions of authority and promised a "new and just Kazakhstan".

Mr Tokayev announced reforms, a constitutional referendum and introduced single presidential terms of seven years.

Mr Nazarbayev, who led Kazakhstan for three decades, was the first to congratulate him on his re-election. It was, he said, "unquestionable proof of the people's unshakeable faith in [his) reforms".

He praised Mr Tokayev's attitude "at critical times" for the country, a reference to the events earlier this year.

Mr Tokayev also stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Moscow's invasion of Ukraine shocked former Soviet republics.

The offensive reawakened Kazakh concerns that Moscow may have ambitions on the north of the country, home to three million ethnic Russians.

In response, Mr Tokayev strengthened his country's ties with China and Europe.

The leaders of Turkey and China visited Kazakhstan, as did high-ranking European officials and Pope Francis this year.

Mr Tokayev clashed with Mr Putin on a visit to Saint Petersburg in June.

Moscow's move to recognise Ukrainian separatist regions — that it has since claimed to annex — would "lead to chaos", he said.

Updated: November 21, 2022, 7:01 AM