Kazakhstan, a nation of 20 million in Central Asia, has voted on internal political stability and a move away from Russia as Sunday’s snap election results gave second term to incumbent Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has openly defied the major ally over its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has congratulated Kazakh President Tokayev on his landslide victory in the snap presidential poll. Tokayev’s first major international meeting after his re-election is set on Nov. 28 with the Russian President in the Russian city of Orenburg. Tokayev has told Putin at a meeting during the summer that Kazakhstan would not recognise the pro-Russian separatist statelets in eastern Ukraine that Moscow later claimed to have annexed.
Kazakhstan, which shares the world’s longest continuous border with Russia, has balanced its status as Moscow’s most trusted ally in ex-Soviet Central Asia with attempts to maintain cordial ties with the West. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned that balancing act into a high-wire walk, despite the Moscow’s support to Tokayev during Kazakhstan’s internal turmoil in January.
Tokayev, who won his first election in 2019 with the backing of predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, played the role of a loyal successor for two-and-a-half years. But that changed in January, when protests that turned into violent unrest broke out across the country and centred on Kazakhstan’s economic centre, Almaty.
During the unrest, Tokayev ordered law enforcement to “shoot to kill” demonstrators. He also cut off communication with the outside world and called on Moscow to send troops to help. The deployment of Moscow-led “peacekeeping” forces suppressed the uprising and the chaos ended with 238 dead in nine days.
After stability reigned in the Central Asian country, Tokayev promptly told Putin that Russian soldiers must leave. The Russian troop deployment to Kazakhstan led to speculation that it could be used to create a permanent Russian foothold there. However, in February, Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry ruled out recognizing the territories Moscow calls the Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics.”
Regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, Kazakhstan has taken in hundreds of thousands of Russians who fled after President Vladimir Putin issued a conscription order in September. Also in September, diplomatic missions Kazakhstan, alongside Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, banned their citizens in Russia against participating in the war in Ukraine. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are members of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, while Uzbekistan withdrew from the military bloc in 2012.
Meanwhile, in the home front, Tokayev broke ties with his mentor Nazarbayev to cement his authority, purging Nazarbayev’s family from positions of authority and reinstated Kazakhstan’s capital city, which was renamed as Nursultan in 2019 to honour the dictator, back to Astana in September this year. Sunday’s snap election results consolidated Tokayev’s power as an independent leader.
According to the Central Elections Commission, voter turnout in Kazakhstan’s snap election was 69.44%, with Tokayev gaining 81.31% of the vote while five other candidates scoring in the low single digits, data showed. Voters’ second most popular choice was “against everyone”, with 5.8% of ballots. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote underlined the need for further legal reforms to ensure genuine pluralism.
The new strong mandate from the people gives President Tokayev seven more years to build a stronger background to pursue the promised reforms aimed at building a just and fair Kazakhstan, including strengthening the rule of law, which will be a welcome sign for foreign audiences, especially businesses and investors.