Kazakh leader headed for huge election victory, exit polls show

ALMATY, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was headed for a landslide victory in a snap election on Sunday, according to opinion polls, cementing his grip on power less than a year after he pushed his long-serving predecessor Nursultan to’ the outskirts. Nazarbayev.

The former diplomat, who came to power in 2019 as Nazarbayev’s hand-picked successor when the Central Asian nation’s only ruler since the Soviet era abdicated, broke with his former patron after a coup in January that Tokayev called attempted coup.

A fresh election victory – opinion polls showed him winning between 82% and 85% of the vote – will give Tokayev, 69, the kind of overwhelming personal mandate that Nazarbayev routinely secured as he built a cult of personality over five terms consecutively.

Nazarbayev, who had held on to important posts after quitting, gave them up during the uprising early this year in which 238 people died. Tokayev has since forced Nazarbayev’s allies to cede other positions, and changed the name of the capital – renamed “Nur-Sultan” in Nazarbayev’s honor – back to Astana.

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Tokayev called for Russian help to end the January unrest, but has since kept his distance from Moscow, avoiding public support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s biggest trading partner, and Russia’s slide into recession has hurt its neighbour’s economy, while the ruble’s strength, boosted by capital controls, has helped push inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high.

Tokayev, a former foreign minister and deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, has overseen constitutional reforms that limit his own rule to two terms. He has also promised to reduce income inequality by getting rid of corruption and redistributing wealth more fairly in the country of 19 million people.

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The presidential election was originally scheduled for late 2024, but was moved up after the January unrest and subsequent constitutional referendum. Tokayev said on Sunday that he would continue to “reset” the political system by calling an early parliamentary election next year. Tokayev left the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms making it easier to establish new political parties.

Opinion polls have predicted that none of the other five candidates would score in the double digits in Sunday’s vote.

“Among those running for president, I know only Tokayev, first of all,” said Timerlan Sadykov, a resident of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, on the eve of the vote.

“And secondly, the way he has behaved on the international stage has been very appealing.”

Another voter from Almaty, a 35-year-old manager who gave only his first name, Serik, said he voted against all candidates.

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“… I think the powers that be have to realize they haven’t given us any real choice,” he said.

Police detained a few dozen people in Almaty who held small-scale protests against the vote, calling it illegal, according to opposition groups and local media. Police said some are being released soon, while others are facing misdemeanor charges.

By the time polling stations closed across Kazakhstan at 9 pm local time, 69.4% of voters had cast their ballots, the Central Election Commission said. Preliminary results of the vote are expected on Monday.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva Additional reporting by Tamara Vall in Astana Editing by Peter Graff, Frances Kerry, Alexander Smith and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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