Polls have closed in Kazakhstan, where the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is widely expected to secure an easy victory in a snap election, solidifying his grip on power less than a year after he sidelined his long-ruling, authoritarian predecessor.
The Sunday election comes after bloody unrest shook the country this year and Tokayev moved to stifle the influence of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
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Five candidates were on the ballot against Tokayev, but with a short campaign period that began in late October, they had little opportunity to mount significant challenges. Opinion polls have predicted none of the five other candidates would score in the double digits.
Tokayev, apparently confident of holding a strong advantage, stayed away from a nationally televised election debate.
The former diplomat, who came to power in 2019 as Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor when the country’s only ruler since the Soviet era stepped down, broke with his ex-patron after a January uprising that Tokayev called a coup attempt.
A new election victory – a foregone conclusion against the five little-known candidates – will give Tokayev, 69, the sort of overwhelming personal mandate that Nazarbayev routinely secured as he built a personality cult over five successive terms.
Tokayev said on Sunday that he would continue “resetting” the political system by calling an early parliamentary election next year. Tokayev quit the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms making it easier to establish new political parties.
The national elections commission said about 69 percent of the electorate had voted by the end of the day (14:00 GMT). Data from several exit polls will be published after midnight (18:00 GMT) and preliminary results of the vote are expected on Monday.
The election for a seven-year term comes as Tokayev has taken steps to keep Kazakhstan’s distance from longtime ally and dominant regional power Russia. Tokayev called on Russian help to put down the unrest, but has since avoided giving public backing to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia is Kazakhstan’s biggest trading partner, and Russia’s slide into recession has hurt Kazakh economic growth, while the strength of the rouble boosted by capital controls has helped push inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high.
Police detained a few dozen people who staged small-scale protests against the vote in Almaty, calling it illegal, according to opposition groups and local media. Police said some were soon released, while others faced misdemeanour charges.