Legislative elections in Kazakhstan on the backdrop of democratic openness

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É in Kazakhstan against a background of democratic openness

Un man votes in legislative elections in Almaty on Sunday.

Kazakhstan voted in early legislative elections on Sunday that could see independent candidates elected as deputies, a sign of a timid democratic opening despite lingering authoritarian reflexes in Central Asia's largest country.

Polling stations closed and 54.19% of the roughly 12 million voters cast ballots, according to the Electoral Commission. The first estimates of the results are expected at 6 p.m.

Among the novelties of this election, candidates not affiliated with parties could present themselves, a first since 2004. The threshold to enter in the Majilis [Lower House of Parliament, which has 98 elected members] was lowered to 5%. A 30% quota for women, young people and people with disabilities has been introduced.

These changes have somewhat revived the ankylosed political landscape of this former Soviet republic bordering Russia and China, still marked by the deadly riots of January 2022.

Under the previous legislature, only three parties were represented. All supported President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, easily re-elected with more than 80% of the vote in November in a poll without real competition.

“The electoral system has changed and gives the impression of choice. But in reality, the president and his administration keep the vote count in their hands. In an authoritarian country, elections are made to keep power, not to replace it.

— Dimach Aljanov, political scientist

As polling stations closed, observers complained that they could not participate in the count and videos of ballot box stuffing were posted on social media. AFP was unable to verify this information independently.

These elections, which also concerned local parliaments, occur following the constitutional reform of 2022 led by Mr. Tokayev, in power since 2019.

This 69-year-old leader shows his desire to continue the modernization, started last year, of this rich country in natural resources.

A woman carries a ballot box during parliamentary elections in the village of Azat, Almaty region, Kazakhstan.

Indeed, high inequalities and corruption have not disappeared, and inflation, above 20%, is eating away at purchasing power.

Mr. Tokayev also broke with his mentor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, after the riots of January 2022.

These demonstrations against the high cost of living had set the country ablaze and the repression had officially killed 238 people .

After a sluggish presidential campaign in November, Almaty, one of the country's two main cities, seemed to wake up timidly for these elections which coincide with the arrival of spring in this city nestled at the foot of imposing mountains.

“As independent candidates are admitted, I think the electoral system is changing for the better.

— Irina Rechetnik, nurse

For Ernest Serikov, an 81-year-old retired professor and supporter of the president, these elections are experimental.

On the windows of restaurants, site barriers or lampposts, electoral posters have flowered in an anarchic way.

And the often abstruse slogans, like Order is there where is the truth, With me there is no mess or else I do not abandon the people, accompany unclear programs.

Total , seven parties are participating in this election, including two new ones registered in a short time. But several opposition parties and independent candidates remain banned.

However, this abundance of candidates with, moreover, two elections on the same day can confuse some. Many voters had not made their choice on the way to the polls.

And to warm up the undecided, food and drink were offered outside the polling stations for celebrate the Muslim holiday of Nowruz with music playing in the background.

For political analyst Andrei Chebotarev, the diversity of parties will have an effect on the acceptance of the election results, both for the people and internationally.

And that is good for power, because parties loyal [to the president] will be present in Parliament and Amanat, the presidential party, will retain the majority of seats, he explained to AFP.

Despite this relative openness, Mr. Tokayev had to #x27;already warned that people who sow discord in the country will be severely punished.

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