Last updated: April 4, 2011 5:07 pm

Kazakh poll criticised as president wins

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Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s veteran president, has won another crushing election victory with 95 per cent support, but foreign observers have criticised the poll as “non-competitive”.

The 70-year-old president extended his rule over the former Soviet central Asian republic into a third decade as the Central Electoral Commission said he had won 95.5 per cent of Sunday’s vote, on an 89.9 per cent turnout. His nearest competitor scored less than 2 per cent.

The result exceeded even the 91 per cent Mr Nazarbayev garnered in the last presidential election in December 2005.

International investors welcomed the victory as ensuring stability in the oil-rich state, whose pro-market economic reforms have delivered strong growth and attracted large foreign investments despite the authoritarian political system. But questions are being posed about who might succeed the veteran leader – some analysts suggest his new five-year term could be his last.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Sunday’s poll was marred, like previous Kazakh elections, by various shortcomings.

“The country still needs to make improvements to meet democratic commitments, particularly in the fields of freedom of assembly and media,” said Tonino Picula, head of the OSCE observer mission.

The OSCE said that while the election was technically well administered, “the absence of opposition candidates and of a vibrant political discourse resulted in a non-competitive environment”.

Some opposition parties boycotted the poll and insisted three candidates who stood against Mr Nazarbayev were there for purely cosmetic reasons. One of them, Mels Yeleusizov, a Green, did little to dispel that impression by saying he himself had voted for Mr Nazarbayev.

The Kazakh leader admitted the result would be a “sensation for the west”. But he drew an implicit comparison with the uprisings against authoritarian Arab leaders.

“If the world sees bloodshed and ethnic discord, we are unified – all the nationalities, peoples and religions of Kazakhstan,” he told cheering supporters.

The overwhelming victory will buy time for Mr Nazarbayev to start planning the transition to a successor.

There has long been speculation in Astana, the Kazakh capital, that he might try to hand over to his daughter, though recent rumours have suggested the president is grooming his Sandhurst-educated grandson.

Those around Mr Nazarbayev say he is fit enough to serve for another decade and wants to complete an industrial programme to modernise the economy and diversify away from oil by 2020.

They also insist the coming decade will see political reforms including a shift to a two-party parliament (Mr Nazarbayev’s party currently holds all seats).

They add that a new generation of western-educated officials may provide the next leader – but pro-democracy opposition groups are sceptical.

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