Astana, Nov 19 (EFE).- Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is seeking re-election Sunday in early presidential elections called after political reforms that reduce the powers of the head of state and in an attempt to definitively break from the legacy of the relegated father of the nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“The fate of our people depends on Sunday’s elections. We must consciously choose between a new and an old Kazakhstan, between fear of change and freedom of speech, between arbitrariness of the elected and justice for all,” Tokayev said during a rally to close his campaign.
Tokayev, 69, was elected in 2019, but decided to bring forward the presidential elections scheduled for 2024 in an attempt to consolidate his power after reducing the influence of “the family” to a minimum, in allusion to the descendants, top officials and oligarchs close to Nazarbayev.
Moreover, the elections coincide with the war in Ukraine, a conflict that has placed Kazakhstan and the other countries of the post-Soviet space in a difficult dilemma, as they support Ukrainian territorial integrity, but continue to maintain close ties with the Kremlin.
ONE TERM, SIX CANDIDATES
Tokayev, who is to face five other candidates on Sunday, two of them women, but no members of the opposition, is the clear favorite for victory.
His lead is so commanding that he saw no need to participate in the television debate held this week to win over the nearly 12 million voters.
“He wants to reinforce his legitimacy to put an end once and for all to the comments that he is a handpicked president,” Karlygash Yezhenova, a well-known Kazakh journalist, told EFE.
However, in case he is re-elected, he can only remain in power for a seven-year term thanks to the political reforms approved in the June referendum.
In that vote, 77% of Kazakhs voted in favor of reducing the presidential powers in favor of the Majilis (Lower House) and the Senate.
After the introduction of the constitutional amendments, the president is not able to belong to any political formation either, which is why Tokayev left the ruling party months ago.
Nurlan Auesbaev, Social Democratic Party candidate; Saltanat Tursynbekova, a former civil servant who pledged to fight domestic violence during her campaign; Karakat Abden, a Alliance of Social Workers candidate; Zhiguli Dairabayev, of the ruling patriotic Auyl party, and Meiram Kazhyken, presented by the Kazakh trade unions, are also running in the elections.
According to analysts, neither of the five candidates is an opposition candidate. In fact, several opposition activists were detained during the campaign and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest.
BREAKING WITH NAZARBAYEV’S LEGACY
Without directly mentioning Nazarbayev, Tokayev has not hesitated to criticize the “kleptocracy” that has characterized the Kazakh elites since independence from the USSR in 1991, calling for “honest and fair rules in the game in politics, the economy and the social sphere.”
The president assures that the reforms, which will prevent, among other things, relatives of the head of state from holding senior positions, are to continue in order to overcome the current “stagnation.”
On the political front, a new law on demonstrations was passed and a 30% quota for women and young people in the composition of party lists were introduced.
As part of this obsession to break with the past, the head of state even changed the name of the country’s capital to its post-Soviet name, Astana, after it was called Nur-Sultan in March 2019, an example of Nazarbayev’s personality cult.
PREVENTING FURTHER UNREST
And the fact is that, although the authorities used the extremist card, Tokayev is aware that the violent riots that broke out in January are closely linked to the socio-economic degradation of what is known as the locomotive of Central Asia.