In Kazakhstan, Hundreds Protest Presidential Vote Seen as a Shoo-In

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Demonstrators took to the streets of major cities in Kazakhstan on Sunday to protest the presidential election in the country, claiming the vote was undemocratic because the outcome was all but certain.

The election was prompted by the resignation in March of Nursultan Nazarbayev, who handpicked Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 66, a diplomat, to be his successor. Mr. Tokayev, who was made interim president, was expected to easily confirm his position.

Mr. Nazarbayev, 78, who had run the oil-rich former Soviet Republic for almost three decades before stepping down, still retains sweeping powers and continues to run the governing Nur Otan party.

The anticipated smooth transition was viewed as positive news by Russia and China, neighbors of Kazakhstan, as well as by foreign energy and mining companies that have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the Central Asian state.

But for many of Kazakhstan’s 12 million registered voters, Mr. Tokayev, a former prime minister and foreign minister, was the only familiar face among seven candidates in a brief and uneventful campaign.

Mr. Tokayev has said that he had no doubt that he would win the election, and he promised to take guidance from Mr. Nazarbayev on strategic matters. Insiders say the men effectively share the presidential palace, although Mr. Nazarbayev’s new office is in a different building.

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Kassym-Jomart Tokayev voting in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, on Sunday. He was named interim president after the resignation in March of Nursultan Nazarbayev and was expected to win the election easily.CreditVyacheslav Oseledko/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The arrangement under which Mr. Nazarbayev effectively remains in charge ensures continuity but also means lingering political uncertainty until he withdraws from politics. Mr. Nazarbayev had routinely taken more than 90 percent of the vote in previous elections described by Western observers as neither free nor fair.

Before assuming the presidency, Mr. Tokayev was chairman of the upper chamber of the rubber-stamp Kazakh Parliament, which is effectively devoid of opposition. Broader dissent is largely stifled through the control of news media and social networks.

Mr. Tokayev cast his ballot in the capital, Nur-Sultan, previously known as Astana, which was renamed in honor of Mr. Nazarbayev this year. After voting, Mr. Tokayev urged the police and protesters to be tolerant, and he said that he planned to include young activists critical of the government in a special committee to promote dialogue.

Facebook and Telegram, a mobile messaging app popular in the country, were inaccessible early on Sunday in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. But that did not prevent hundreds from rallying in the streets of Almaty and in Nur-Sultan.

Police officers in riot gear detained dozens of demonstrators in the two cities as they dispersed the protests.

Mr. Tokayev, who studied at an elite Soviet diplomatic school in Moscow, is likely to continue Mr. Nazarbayev’s policy of maintaining a foreign policy that attempts to balance the influences of China, Russia and the West.

That approach has helped Kazakhstan attract foreign investment and open up markets for its oil and metals exports.

As interim leader, Mr. Tokayev appointed new deputy ministers but eschewed major personnel or policy changes.

Source: NYT

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