The Nur Otan party will retain power after winning nearly 72% of the votes cast.
Kazakhstan’s ruling party set to sweep away the oil-rich country’s parliamentary elections, as it has for decades, without major opposition groups running for election and small street protests are quickly repressed by the police.
An exit poll by the Kazakhstan Public Opinion Research Institute said the Nur Otan party won nearly 72 percent of Sunday’s vote. As in the current legislature, two other parties crossed the 7% threshold to win seats.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 80-year-old former president who resigned in 2019, remains hugely influential as chairman of the national security council and head of Nur Otan, which controls 84 of the 107 seats in the outgoing lower house.
Although four parties contested the election outside of Nur Otan, none openly criticized Nazarbayev or his hand-picked successor, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Instead, they have targeted lower-level officials and their policies, an arrangement that critics of the government say is intended to create an illusion of pluralism.
The National Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party in the Central Asian nation, boycotted the vote, calling the move a “protest” against a rigged system. Another opposition movement, the Democratic Party, failed to secure official registration.
‘I have stopped believing in progress’
Dozens of opposition supporters gathered in main squares in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty on Sunday, shouting “Boycott!” and “Nazarbaïev go away!”.
Police in riot gear quickly surrounded them and arrested a few dozen people, although the Home Office later said they were all released shortly after without any arrests.
At a polling station in the capital, Nur Sultan, a 50-year-old man named Nurzhan told AFP news agency that many Kazakhs “have stopped believing in progress.”
“But I still hope [things] maybe better, ”he said, explaining his decision to go to the polls despite the freezing conditions.
The former Soviet country never held elections deemed free or fair by Western vote-watchers.
While the election outcome will dampen hopes for political reform encouraged by Kazakhstan’s western partners, it will help ensure the stability that has helped the 19 million-strong country attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment, mostly in the oil, gas and mining sectors.
In an attempt to modernize the system without giving up her party’s tight grip on power, Tokayev oversaw the introduction of quotas for women and those under 29 in political party candidate lists.
“[Further] reforms are being prepared, ”Tokayev told reporters after voting for Nur Sultan. “The reforms must not stop.”
The World Bank estimated that Kazakhstan’s economy shrank 2.5% in 2020 as it grappled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – a first year-on-year recession in around 20 years years.