Why is Early Presidential Elections in Kazakhstan Significant?
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Associate Fellow, VIF
Background

The incumbent President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won by a landslide in an early presidential election on November 20, 2022. He was reelected because the Kazakh people trusted him and supported a fair government, which was the slogan of the election campaign by the President Tokayev. The outcomes of the presidential election may also confirm the Tokayev administration’s most recent reforms and constitutional changes, which were implemented in response to the large-scale protests in January. After the January protests, President Tokayev started a comprehensive reform agenda for the nation’s socioeconomic policies and its political and constitutional framework. These reforms included the abolition of corruption, in addition to improving democratic accountability, good governance, and human rights protections.

However, the full realisation of Kazakhstan’s goals depends on the development of strong democratic institutions and vibrant civil society. The President of Kazakhstan has suggested amending the constitution to strengthen the democracy and civil society of the nation. Another significant change was the constitutional amendment regarding the presidential mandate, which limited presidential terms to a single seven-year term. The goal of this change was to decrease the possibility of monopolisation of power while also increasing the democratic value and transparency of the electoral process. Upholding human rights and distributing power among the President and other political institutions are two additional notable developments of Tokayev’s policies.

Six people have contested the presidential elections in Kazakhstan. The People’s Coalition nominated incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev; Meiram Kazhyken was nominated by the Amanat Commonwealth of Trade Unions, Karakat Abden was nominated by the National Alliance of Professional Social Workers, and Saltanat Tursynbekova ran for the Qazaq Analary – Dasturge Zhol public association. Furthermore, Nurlan Auesbayev was nominated by the National Social Democratic Party, and Zhiguli Dairabayev ran for the Auyl Party.

Six organizations conducted the opinion polls and broadcasted the exit poll results on midnight of Election Day.[1] The Open Society Institute released the results of the November 20 presidential election exit polls. The exit poll results revealed President Tokayev’s winning with a majority. According to the exit poll, President Tokayev received 82.45% of the votes, while ‘I’m against everything’ was a choice made by 5.2 percent of voters in this presidential election. The column “Against all” was reintroduced into the ballots in May 2021, following the introduction of amendments and additions to some legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on election issues. On September 22, 2022, the CEC announced that the “Against all” option would be available for the Presidential elections.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was announced as the newly elected President of Kazakhstan by the Central Election Commission (CEC) following the release of the official presidential election results on November 22. According to the CEC, he received 81.31 percent of the votes. According to the results, other candidates, including Zhiguli Dairabayev received 3.42 percent, Karakat Abden received 2.6 percent, Saltanat Tursynbekova received 2.12 percent, Nurlan Auesbayev received 2.22 percent of the votes, , Meiram Kazhyken received 2.53 percent, and against all - 5.8 percent. Out of 11,953,465 eligible voters, or 69.44 percent, 8,300,046 citizens, or citizens of the country, cast ballots in the presidential election.[2] The newly reelected President was sworn in on November 26. During the swearing-in Ceremony, Tokayev stated that he would carry out all initiated reforms to renew the government and construct righteous Kazakhstan with truly democratic institutions.[3]

Why is this Election Significant?

The 7th presidential election in Kazakhstan was significant because it took place when the nation faced many difficulties post-January protests, including the Ukrainian crisis and its geopolitical and economic effects on Kazakhstan. Several additional noteworthy factors include the following:

Women’s Participation

This is the first time in Kazakhstan’s independent history that two female candidates ran for President. Karakat Abden of the National Alliance of Professional Social Workers and Saltanat Tursynbekova of the Qazaq Analary – Dasturge Zhol public association appeared to be two strong female candidates. Still, their campaigns were not as effective due to the short amount of time since the snap elections were announced.[4] Nonetheless, this reflected that women’s participation in Kazakh politics is growing, as they hold many important positions in government and parliament. Daniya Yespayeva of the AkZhol party was the first woman in Kazakh history to run for President in 2019.[5]

Peaceful Elections

There were security concerns about the presidential elections following the violent protests in January of this year. However, some foreign observers noted that the Kazakh presidential elections were peaceful. Nearly 50 of the polling centers the members visited had no security, according to Dr. Kamran Bokhari of Washington, D.C. based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy. This proves the government had confidence that the electoral process would go off without a hassle and that voters would be free to choose the candidate of their choice. Although the observers noted a few technical voting rule violations, but they were infrequent and had no impact on the outcomes, according to the statement by the observers.

‘Against All’ option on the Ballot

The ‘against all’ option was reinstated in the ballot papers to increase the democratic value of the electoral process. This allowed the Kazakh people to express their dissatisfaction with all of the candidates running in the elections. Unsurprisingly, after President Tokayev, the ‘Against all’ option received the most votes (5.8%).

Opposition

President Tokayev’s numerous reforms have paved the way for the country’s political opposition. Five candidates ran against President Tokayev. However, there appeared to be little competition between Tokayev and the other candidates. The foreign observers recommended that the campaign period be extended to allow candidates more time to interact with prospective voters, more space for grass-roots activism and that all candidates receive more extensive media coverage.&nbsp[6]

The outcome of this election was expected to show whether or not Kazakhstan’s citizens were prepared for significant changes in the context of President Tokayev’s vision for a new Kazakhstan with a listening and accountable government. The June referendum demonstrated that the Kazakh government is on the right track, and the election results would give President Tokayev even more public backing.

Most international and national observers who participated in the presidential elections confirmed their legitimacy as free and fair. These observers were also taken aback by this because Kazakhstan had just recently gone through widespread unrest that was started by outside forces attempting to destabilise the nation. Speaking with residents on Election Day in rural and urban Kazakhstan revealed that voters were keen to vote, with the majority declaring they would cast their ballots for Tokayev. In addition, they said that they had not been forced or subjected to any pressure to back any particular candidate.

Conclusion

The Kazakh President has improved his popularity among the populace by making wise decisions, such as establishing prosecutor courts, altering the presidential term, and granting amnesty to the protestors from the January riots. President Tokayev’s decisive victory demonstrates the Kazakh people’s confidence in him. And it is now his responsibility to honour the promises he made to them. After the protests in January, he held a referendum on the reforms he had begun for the new Kazakhstan, which also got the full support of the Kazakh population.

As the regional and global geopolitical landscapes shift, Kazakhstan faces numerous challenges. Until now, Astana has maintained a neutral stance while pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy. Because of his understanding as a diplomat and potential as a far-sighted leader, President Tokayev has overcome obstacles and brought stability to the country. Now that he has won with a majority, Kazakhstan will gain from a stable political system that encourages growth and development. India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, congratulated President Tokayev on his reelection as President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. He also stated that under his leadership, Kazakhstan and India could strengthen their multifaceted bilateral ties.

Endnotes :

[1] ‘Six Organizations to Conduct Exit Polls on Election Day in Kazakhstan’Astana Times, 7 November 2022.https://astanatimes.com/2022/11/six-organizations-to-conduct-exit-polls-on-election-day-in-kazakhstan/

[2] Zhanna Shayakhmetova, 'Tokayev Wins 2022 Presidential Election, According to Final Results of Central Election Commission’, Astana times, 22 November 2022.https://astanatimes.com/2022/11/tokayev-wins-2022-presidential-election-according-to-final-results-of-central-election-commission/

[3] Aibarshyn Akhmetkali, “ Tokayev Sworn in as Kazakhstan’s President, Pledges to Ensure Transformative Political Reforms”,Astana times, 26 November 2022. https://astanatimes.com/2022/11/tokayev-sworn-in-as-kazakhstans-president-pledges-to-ensure-transformative-political-reforms/

[4] Galiya Khassenkhanova,‘Two Female Candidates Nominated in Kazakhstan’s Presidential Elections For First Time’, Astana times, 11 October 2022.https://astanatimes.com/2022/10/two-female-candidates-to-run-in-kazakhstans-presidential-elections-for-first-time/

[5] Ibid.

[6] Aida Haidar andAibarshyn Akhmetkali, 'Foreign Observers Deliver Assessment of Kazakhstan’s Presidential Election’, Astana times, 21 November 2022. https://astanatimes.com/2022/11/foreign-observers-deliver-assessment-of-kazakhstans-presidential-election/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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