Kazakhstan holds elections to elect new parliament

Kazakhstan holds elections to elect new parliament

On Sunday, voters in Kazakhstan went to the polls to choose lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, which is being reconfigured in light of the deadly unrest that gripped the resource-rich Central Asian nation a year ago.

The national elections commission said that the electoral field was unusually large, with two newly registered parties and hundreds of individual candidates joining the race, but turnout appeared relatively unenthusiastic - about 54% of eligible voter cast ballots.

The early election was on the fourth anniversary of the resignation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had led Kazakhstan since independence following the separation of the Soviet Union in 1991 and had a huge influence.

His successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was widely expected to continue Nazarbayev's authoritarian course and even renamed the capital as Nur-Sultan in his predecessor's honor.

The political landscape of the country changed markedly after a wave of violence in January 2022 when provincial protests initially sparked by a fuel price hike engulfed other cities, notably the commercial capital, Almaty, and became overtly political as demonstrators shouted Old Man Out! In reference to the now 82-year-old Nazarbayev.

More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police harshly put down the unrest. Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful post as head of the national security council. He restored the capital's former name of Astana, and the parliament abolished a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.

Tokayev also instituted reforms to strengthen the parliament, reduce presidential powers and limit the presidency to a single seven-year term. Under the reforms a third of the lower house of parliament's 98 seats will be chosen in single-mandate races rather than by party list.

The ruling Amanat party has a majority of seats in the current parliament, and the rest belongs to parties that are largely loyal to Amanat.

The likely final balance is not known, although opinion surveys indicate that Amanat will remain the largest party in the new parliament. More than 400 candidates, most of whom self-nominated, participated in the single-mandate races, and the national elections commission authorized two additional parties to enter the proportional contest.

According to Austrian Martin Sajdik, a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's elections observation mission, we can only hope that these elections will contribute to the further consolidation of society, of democracy, and that the idea of a new and fair Kazakhstan will develop with the population really participating in this, he said.