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Dozens Detained As Kazakhs Vote With No Opposition On Ballot And Little Hope Of Change

Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party appears set to sweep a parliamentary election in a vote lacking any serious opposition and with dozens of protesters detained in at least three major cities, including the capital.

Former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s Nur Otan, the ruling party since 1999, won almost 72 percent of the vote on January 10, according to an exit poll by a local pollster, the Public Opinion research institute.

Two other parties also cleared the 7 percent threshold needed to gain seats in the Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament. Nur Otan controlled 84 of the 107 seats in the outgoing Mazhilis.

International election observers say that past elections in Kazakhstan have been neither free nor fair, citing electoral fraud, repression of opposition candidates, and restrictions on a free press.

The opposition boycotted the January 10 vote, saying nothing had changed this time around despite Nazarbaev’s pivot to a less conspicuous public role nearly two years ago.

After detaining several activists in the run-up to the vote, police kept up the pressure on election day, detaining dozens of protesters across the country.

Deputy Interior Minister Arystangani Zapparov said late on January 10 that all those detained had been released without charges.

Zapparov, who spoke at a briefing at the Central Election Commission in Nur-Sultan, ignored questions about the number of people who had been detained across the country.

Zapparov said the detainees “refused to obey the demands” of the authorities to stop their attempts to organize illegal marches and rallies, and the police “were forced to detain them.”

Internet blockages were reported as ballots were cast in the country’s largest city, Almaty, where one demonstration was organized.

At least one banned opposition party gathered for an afternoon rally in the capital, where they joined scattered calls for a boycott of the vote.

Police surrounded the demonstrators and detained more than a dozen people at that event.

In Nur-Sultan, several activists were abducted from their homes.

In addition to the detentions in Nur-Sultan and other cities, there were reports of independent observers being denied access or detained at some polling stations.

Election official said that turnout was slightly above 63 percent.

Along with Nur Otan (Radiant Fatherland), four other political parties loyal to the government — Adal (Honest), Auyl (Village), Ak Zhol (Bright Path), and the People’s Party (formerly the Communist People’s Party) — took part in the elections.

The only officially registered political party that labels itself as an opposition group, the All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), announced in November that it was boycotting the elections because Kazakhstan’s political landscape continues to be dominated by the “same” political elite.

The lack of competition has dashed the hopes of the country’s Western partners, who had hoped for deep political reforms. Nonetheless, some say continuity will bring the stability needed to attract foreign investment — primarily into the oil, gas, and mining sectors.

The vote was the first legislative poll in the Central Asian state since the resignation of Nazarbaev, who ruled the nation for three decades before stepping down in favor of his handpicked successor, Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, in March 2019.

Despite stepping down, Nazarbaev maintains huge influence in the country’s politics. He is the head of the powerful Security Council, and also enjoys almost limitless powers and immunity as “elbasy” — leader of the nation.

“This election campaign is no different than the previous [elections]: the same rules, the same law, the same procedures, the same political parties,” OSDP leader Askhat Rakhimzhanov said.

International election observers say that past elections in Kazakhstan have been neither free nor fair, citing electoral fraud, repression of opposition candidates, and restrictions on a free press.

In at least three regions of Kazakhstan — including Turkestan and Shymkent — observers complained that they were being prevented from entering polling stations.


Photo Gallery:
Protesters Detained As Kazakhs Go To The Polls

In an election lacking any serious opposition, dozens of activists were detained by police in several cities across Kazakhstan on January 10.

Other independent observers have previously complained of obstacles to receiving the basic PCR coronavirus tests that authorities have demanded in at least some cases of election officials and party and other observers.

Several RFE/RL Kazakh Service reporters have been excluded from polling stations, including one who was physically shoved out of a voting place in Almaty.

Meanwhile, civil rights activists and opposition politicians have accused Kazakh authorities of intentionally refusing to officially register opposition political groups in recent months, calling it a government ploy to prevent opposition parties from participating in the elections.

Dozens of activists have been jailed in recent weeks in what rights defenders describe as a campaign of pressure on activists and independent election observers, and a clampdown on free speech ahead of the polls.

The elections will decide 98 of 107 seats in the Mazhilis. Nine other seats will be separately elected by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan — a political body chaired by Nazarbaev designed to represent ethnic groups in the country.

The highest turnout was reported in the remote North Kazakhstan Province, where some 75.5 percent of the voters cast their ballots, the Central Election Commission said. The lowest turnout — about 30 percent — was recorded in Almaty.

With reporting by AP

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