ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — Voters in Kazakhstan went to the polls Sunday to elect members of the lower house of parliament, which is being reconfigured after deadly unrest swept the resource-rich Central Asian nation a year ago.
Although the field was unusually large with two newly registered parties and hundreds of individual candidates joining the race, turnout appeared relatively unenthusiastic – about 54% of eligible voters cast their ballots, according to the national election commission.
The snap election was held on the fourth anniversary of the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and established enormous influence.
His successor Kasim-Zhomart Tokaev was expected to continue Nazarbayev’s authoritarian course and even renamed the capital Nur-Sultan in honor of his predecessor.
But the country’s political landscape changed significantly after a wave of violence in January 2022, when provincial protests initially sparked by fuel price hikes spread to other cities, especially the commercial capital Almaty, and became overtly political as protesters chanted “Old man out!” compared to now 82 -year-old Nazarbayev.
More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police cracked down on the unrest. Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful post as chairman of the National Security Council. He returned the capital to its previous name of Astana, and parliament repealed a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.
Tokayev also initiated reforms to strengthen parliament, reduce presidential powers and limit the presidency to one seven-year term. Under the reforms, a third of the 98 seats in the lower house of parliament will be elected in single-member races rather than on a party list.
The ruling Amanat party holds the vast majority of seats in the current parliament, with the rest belonging to parties mostly loyal to Amanat.
Although opinion polls show that Amanat will remain the largest party in the new parliament, the likely final balance is unclear. More than 400 candidates, most of them self-nominated, competed in single-member races, and the national election commission authorized two more parties to enter the proportional contest.
“We can only hope that these elections will contribute to the further consolidation of society, democracy and that the idea of a new and just Kazakhstan will be developed with the participation of the population in it,” Austrian Martin Sajdik, a member of the Organization for European Monitoring Mission on Security and Cooperation, said. on Sunday.