[ASTANA] Twelve million people have the right to vote in Kazakhstan, and many of them were heading to the polls on Sunday to elect the lower house of parliament and local legislative assemblies.
It is the latest step in President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's agenda of reforms in the wake of violent political protests a little over a year ago.
In the capital, a steady stream of voters was trickling in despite the cold and snow, and one woman said her love for her country is what made her come out today.
“I’m voting because I want to make the future of Kazakhstan better,” Astana resident Merash Mundada told The Media Line.
Bulat Jumagulov, another voter, told The Media Line that he is optimistic about the direction of the country.
“Now we have a lot of choices, not like past elections, everyone has a chance to enter politics and make changes. We are going the right way,” he said.
The elections are the latest in a series of reforms enacted by President Tokayev following bloody protests in January of last year, when he accused demonstrators of an attempted coup and asked neighboring Russia to help crush them.
Snap presidential election
But in an attempt to appease the protesters, he also responded with several reforms, among them a snap presidential election last November that he won handily.
Tokayev is also trying to change his gas-rich country’s foreign policy, distancing it from neighboring Russia by not backing its war in Ukraine and moving closer to the US and the rest of the West.
“It’s obvious that the transformational process in a country of this size and a country of this geographical location attracts attention,” Dr. Martin Sajdik, senior advisor and board member of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told The Media Line.
Even so, the reforms have been branded as limited by the West and the Kazakhstani opposition says the government still commands great power.
President Tokayev calls these elections the most important political event in his young country’s history, and he is betting on a high turnout to be able to implement his political reforms.