Ruling party set for win as Kazakhstan votes



Citizens of energy-rich Kazakhstan voted Sunday in a parliamentary election expected to provide a commanding majority for ageing autocrat President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party.

The early vote comes as the ex-Soviet country has seen its once-booming economy slump on the back of falling oil prices and an economic crisis in northern neighbour Russia, but Nazarbayev’s grip on power appears as firm as ever.

The 75-year-old strongman — who has ruled Kazakhstan virtually unopposed since before its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 — was elected to a new five-year term last year with 98 percent of the vote.

After casting his vote in the capital Astana on Sunday morning, Nazarbayev — who has maintained close ties with ex-Soviet master Russia — called on other countries “not to rush” Kazakhstan on its journey toward democracy.

“This is Asia,” he said. “We have different relationships — family relationships, a different religion and different opportunities between people.”

The country’s Central Election Committee (CEC) said that by 1200 GMT more than 75 percent of nearly 10 million voters had cast their votes in a ballot featuring six parties mostly supportive of Nazarbayev.

Standing in line to vote in Astana, Maral Akimbaeva, a 27-year-old worker for a state company, said she would “probably” vote for ruling party Nur Otan.

“If I am honest I don’t see any difference between the parties. They all say the same thing,” she told AFP.

– ‘Zombie parties’ –
Sunday’s early polls came after Nazarbayev brought forward the presidential vote last year, with analysts saying he was keen to get elections over with in case the economic situation worsened.

Analysts say the parties competing in the vote lack coherent ideologies or manifestos, and exist to provide democratic window-dressing in the authoritarian republic.

“These are zombie parties. They take up space and make announcements, but principally do not have any particular sort of platform,” Dosym Satpayev, Director of the Risk Assessment Group based in the country’s largest city Almaty, told AFP.

In addition to Nur Otan, two other parties from the outgoing legislature are competing — the pro-government Communist People’s Party and Ak Zhol.

Of the three remaining parties, both Auyl, which focuses on agrarian issues, and pro-green Birlik are loyal to Nazarbayev, while the Nationwide Social Democratic Party (NSDP) claims the mantle of the opposition.

Speaking to AFP ahead of the vote, NSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay described other parties competing in the race as “clones” of Nur Otan.

“Kazakhstan’s political system is a vertical chain of power based around the cult of personality of one person,” Tuyakbay complained.

Campaigning in a bleak environment, Nur Otan emphasised past government achievements while endorsing present state policies under the motto “Unity! Stability! Creativity!”

Nazarbayev, who has not confirmed he will run for office when his term ends in 2020, said Sunday he did not anticipate major changes to the government after the vote.

The veteran ruler has not named a successor and observers are watching the polls for any indications they might give of a potential heir emerging.

Polls close at 1500 GMT and projected results are expected after 1800 GMT.

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