Tokayev wins vote to become Kazakhstan’s second president

Police arrest hundreds protesting against election as OSCE cites voting irregularities

Kazakhstan has arrested protesters and been accused of voting misconduct amid a rubber-stamp election of the country's new president, a longtime ally of the country's veteran leader who will retain sweeping powers over the oil-rich nation.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a loyal lieutenant of predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev who has run the country since 1990, won 70.8 per cent of the vote, results released on Monday showed. The race was tightly controlled by state authorities to deliver an outcome that was never in doubt.

Police arrested more than 500 people who took to the streets to denounce the election on Sunday and Monday, in a country where freedom of expression is heavily curtailed and displays of public disaffection towards the authorities are rare.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored the election, said the ballot “showed scant respect for democratic standards”.

“Irregularities on election day and a disregard of formal procedures meant that an honest count could not be guaranteed,” it said in a statement, citing “a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters”.

The election, which saw Mr Tokayev win far less than the 97.75 per cent of votes Mr Nazarbayev secured in 2015, marks an important step in the succession debate in the former Soviet republic.

Vast resources

The size of western Europe, with vast oil, gas and metals deposits, Kazakhstan has attracted a lot of foreign investor interest but many have long feared for stability in the country should Mr Nazarbayev step down or die.

Analysts have also sought to cast the nation as a political bellwether in Central Asia, a region where Russia, China and the EU have competing interests and strongmen leaders have largely succeeded in suppressing demands for democratic change.

Mr Tokayev, a 66-year-old career diplomat picked by Mr Nazarbayev to succeed him, will formally rule as president but wield less actual authority than his mentor. Mr Nazarbayev will remain chairman of the powerful Security Council and leader of the ruling Nur Otan party, and holds the official title of Leader of the Nation.

At a press conference to mark his victory, Mr Tokayev dismissed the OSCE’s conclusions and said “we should not focus on [their] assessment”.

“I know . . . how they compile these reports and how politically prejudiced they can be, depending on which country they work in,” he said.

The new president also hit out at social media networks, which local media said had been restricted by police attempting to suppress the protests.

“Social networks should not be used for destructive purposes, to sow discord among the people and even more so provoke people into a collision with each other,” he told reporters. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019