Ruling party sweeps Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections

People vote at a poling station during the Kazakhstan's legislative elections to elect the members of Majilis (lower house of the parliament) in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan, 10 January 2021. [Radmir Hahrutdinov/EPA/EFE]

Kazakhstan’s ruling party Nur Otan looks set to sweep the parliamentary election held on Sunday (10 January), according to preliminary results, which show only two other parties passing the threshold to be represented in the next Mazhlis, the lower house of parliament.

The preliminary results of the election for the Mazhilis were announced three hours after the polling stations closed throughout the country on Sunday.

The elections were the first since the implementation of a package of political reforms by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev designed to increase further the openness, fairness, and transparency of Kazakhstan’s electoral system.

They include consolidating an institute of the parliamentary opposition, which provides additional guarantees for the representation of parliamentary minority parties in the governing structures of the legislative body.

In addition, the number of signatures needed to create a political party with the ability to contest elections has been halved. Furthermore, procedures for political activism, including holding national assemblies and rallies have been simplified.

In an attempt to modernise the system without relinquishing his party’s tight grip on power, Tokayev has overseen the introduction of quotas for women and under-29s in political parties’ candidate lists.

“(Further) reforms are being prepared,” Tokayev told reporters after casting his ballot in the capital city of Nur-Sultan. “Reforms must not stop.”

According to an exit poll conducted by the Public Opinion research centre, three parties received enough votes to pass the required 7% threshold: the Nur-Otan Party – 71,97%, the AkZhol Democratic Party – 10,18 %, and the People’s Party – 9,03%. The Auyl People’s Democratic Patriotic Party gained 5,75% and the Adal Party – 3,07% and will not be in Parliament if the preliminary results are confirmed.

Earlier the Central Electoral Commission announced a turnout of 63,3 %, which seems rather high in the conditions of the COVID pandemic and temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius.

The successful contenders

Nur-Otan (‘Radiant Fatherland’) has been the ruling party of Kazakhstan since 1999, established by the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Without any doubt, Nur-Otan has the most organised and ramified infrastructure in the country, with various internal committees, a youth wing, its own media resources, etc. Regarding pre-election matters, until mid-November 2020, there was a complete and unconditional dominance of the Nur-Otan party in the Kazakh media.

The AkZhol party (‘Lighted Path’) calls itself “the” parliamentary opposition. Its leader, Azat Peruashev, had earlier initiated a law on parliamentary opposition. The party’s frontmen, in addition to the chairman, are ex-presidential candidate Daniya Espaeva, Kazybek Isa, and Berik Dyusembinov. The AkZhol party has identified the main threats to Kazakhstan being bureaucracy and corruption, social injustice and the growing gap between rich and poor; monopolization of the economy and power in Kazakhstan. Perushaev has warned that further dragging out of reform may lead to a crisis of statehood, as happened in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, and earlier in Ukraine.

The People’s Party of Kazakhstan is the former Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan. On the basis of rebranding and renaming, it became a “people’s party”. The frontmen of the People’s Party are well-known and active deputies of the Mazhilis of the Parliament Aikyn Konurov, Zhambyl Akhmetbekov and Irina Smirnova. The first two also hold the positions of secretaries of the CPPK Central Committee. Zhambyl Akhmetbekov twice ran for president of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the elections of 2011 and 2019.

The two parties below the 7% threshold

The People’s Democratic Patriotic Party “Auyl” is one of the youngest parties in Kazakhstan, created in 2015 through the merger of the Kazakh Social Democratic Party “Auyl” and the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan. It has participated in parliamentary and local elections in 2016. The frontmen of “Auyl” are its chairman, Senator Ali Bektayev, and his first deputy, ex-presidential candidate Toleutai Rakhimbekov. The party successfully conducted a nationwide poll with the aim of monitoring the most pressing socio-economic problems, which should form the basis of the party’s electoral programme.

“Adal” (“Justice”) is a newly formed party, based on the rebranding and renaming of the Birlik party. It intends to replenish its membership base primarily by business representatives. According to the leaders of the party, the new name was chosen because of the population’s demand for renewal and justice.

The election was monitored by 398 accredited foreign observers, including from 10 international organisations and 31 foreign states, as well as numerous domestic observers.

This was the eighth parliamentary election in Kazakhstan’s history since its independence, and the first under Tokayev’s presidency. 10,061 polling stations were available for an electorate of 11 million voters, including 66 in Kazakhstan’s overseas missions in 53 countries.

International election monitors on Monday criticised the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan for lacking real competition and raised concerns over freedom of assembly.

“As all political parties contesting the elections supported the policies of the ruling party, the campaign was not competitive, and voters had no genuine political alternatives to choose from,” the OSCE said in a statement.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said recommendations from previous observer missions addressing “fundamental freedoms” had not been fully implemented.

“Curbs on the freedom of association, of assembly and of expression had a negative impact on campaign activities, which remained low key in the run-up to election day,” the statement added.

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