Polling stations closed yesterday in energy-rich Kazakhstan after citizens voted in a parliamentary election expected to provide a commanding majority for ageing autocrat President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party.
The vote came as the former Soviet country sees its once-booming economy slump on the back of falling oil prices and an economic crisis in northern neighbour Russia, but Nazarbayev’s grip on power appears as firm as ever.
The 75-year-old strongman - who has ruled Kazakhstan virtually unopposed since before its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 – was elected to a new five-year term last year with 98% of the vote.
After casting his vote in the capital Astana yesterday morning, Nazarbayev – who has maintained close ties with former Soviet master Russia – called on other countries “not to rush” Kazakhstan on its journey toward democracy.
“This is Asia,” he said. “We have different relationships – family relationships, a different religion and different opportunities between people.”
Polling stations closed across the vast country at 1500 GMT in a ballot featuring six parties mostly supportive of Nazarbayev.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) claimed 75% of the electorate of nearly 10mn had cast votes by 1200 GMT yesterday.
Standing in line to vote in Astana, Maral Akimbaeva, a 27-year-old worker for a state company, said she would “probably” vote for ruling party Nur Otan.
“If I am honest I don’t see any difference between the parties. They all say the same thing,” she told AFP.
Yesterday’s early polls came after Nazarbayev brought forward the presidential vote last year, with analysts saying he was keen to get elections over with in case the economic situation worsened.
Analysts say the parties competing in the vote lack coherent ideologies or manifestos, and exist to provide democratic window-dressing in the authoritarian republic.
“These are zombie parties. They take up space and make announcements, but principally do not have any particular sort of platform,” Dosym Satpayev, Director of the Risk Assessment Group based in the country’s largest city Almaty, told AFP.
In addition to Nur Otan, two other parties from the outgoing legislature are competing – the pro-government Communist People’s Party and Ak Zhol.
Of the three remaining parties, both Auyl, which focuses on agrarian issues, and pro-green Birlik are loyal to Nazarbayev, while the Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) claims the mantle of the opposition.
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