Sixty-four-year-old retiree Akhmetova Damira Kopzhasarovna braved the sub-zero temperatures of the Kazakhstan winter so she could cast her vote in the presidential elections being held Sunday.
“We are electing a president and it’s my civic duty to come out and vote. The main issue is the prices for food, hopefully they won’t increase in the future,” Kopzhasarovna told The Media Line.
Less than three months after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called a snap election, the roughly 12 million voters in the central Asia country are making their choice for a president from a field of six candidates that includes two women and the incumbent.
It’s a foregone conclusion that President Tokayev will be the winner on Sunday, which will strengthen his grip on power, but he has to turn his focus immediately to pressing issues, ranging from managing a delicate relationship with neighboring Russia, his country’s biggest trading partner, to simmering tension in the country following deadly January unrest in which more than 230 people died in riots sparked by high fuel prices.
Five little-known candidates are challenging the former diplomat, who came to power in 2019.
At this polling station in a village of 12,000 outside the capital Astana, the incumbent’s supporters were eager to talk.
Khadijah, a retiree from the village of Akmol on the outskirts of the capital, told The Media Line her main concern is the national unity of her country.
“I came here to vote for my president Kassim Jomaret Tokayev. We want our country to live in unity, solidarity and prosperity,” she said,
No official invitation was extended to United Nations or American election observers, and some Western organizations have criticized Kazakhstan's failure to meet electoral recommendations.
However, the government has invited a friendlier group of election-monitoring groups like TURKPA, an election observation mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic-speaking countries, as well as individuals from different countries who attended in their own capacity.
Observer Domenico Palmieri, the Secretary General of the Italian Institute for Asia (ISIA), told The Media Line that this is his first time monitoring an election, and said he had visited several polling stations all over the capital.
“Everything from the formal point of view was correct, people [were] also happy to vote. Many people were dancing in the polling stations, and the only point is, except for President Tokayev, the other candidates are not well known by the population.”
Tokayev has introduced political reforms that included strengthening the parliament, and reducing presidential powers, and limiting the presidency to a single seven-year term.
The opposition says the country is suffering from deep economic and social inequality and nepotism, while the incumbent has vowed to build “a new Kazakhstan” by liberalizing the judicial system, tackling corruption and undertaking reforms.
Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Outreach Coordinator at Access Now, accused the government of trying to curtail people’s ability to criticize it.
She told The Media Line that “internet shutdowns are not only a violation of human rights tenders themselves, but they also serve as a cover to other human rights abuses, including police brutality against protesters.”
There’s little doubt about who the winner will be, but whoever triumphs will be faced with many pressing issues.