Early parliamentary elections were held in Kazakhstan on Sunday. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the early voting as part of a “modernization” campaign launched months after protests against fuel prices broke out in January last year.
According to official reports, the protests were fiercely suppressed and 238 people were killed.
Opinion polls show Tokayev’s ruling Amanat party will win 53-54% of the vote, enough to hold the expected comfortable majority in parliament. Voter turnout was 54.2%, according to the Central Election Commission. Despite Moscow’s support during the 2022 unrest, Tokayev refuses to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or recognize Russia’s annexation of some Ukrainian territories.
At the same time, Astana tries to maintain good relations with both Moscow, its neighbor and major trading partner, as well as with the West seeking to isolate Russia.
As the elections drew near, Tokayev introduced a number of reforms and promised a democratization process. As a result, 98 members of Kazakhstan’s lower house are now directly elected.
International election observers have welcomed a number of innovations, such as lowering the threshold for entry into parliament from 7% to 5%, accepting nonpartisan candidates and a 30% quota for women, youth and people with disabilities. But they also criticized the lack of freedom of the press and free speech. However, for the first time in nearly two decades, some opposition figures are running as independents, a move that could allow some critics of the government to win a limited number of seats.