Antonio Alonso Marcos
Professor, University San Pablo CEU
Kazakhstan held early presidential elections on 9 June. A number of elements show that Kazakh society has raised its level of democratic demand, what the Anglo-Saxons call “accountability”. From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., 11,814,019 citizens were called upon to approach the 9,968 polling stations throughout the country and even in the diplomatic legations present in more than half the world. Why have they been historic?
To begin with, for the first time in almost 30 years of independence Nursultan Nazarbayev did not participate in them. In addition, seven different opponents of great social and political importance have competed, among them the final winner: the career diplomat Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev.
Nazarbayev had always revalidated his mandate with a very high percentage of popular support (over 90%). Tokayev, who, as President of the Senate, had succeeded Nazarbayev on an interim basis and had promised to continue the work begun by his predecessor, was expected to win. On Sunday, the majority of Kazakhstan’s citizens (around 70%) voted in favour of political stability, which has made this one of the most successful countries in Central Asia and the entire post-Soviet area.
Certainly, the outcome was highly predictable, but it cannot be said that there was no competition among the seven political adversaries. This can be seen mainly in three aspects: the high number of candidates; the fact that for the first time a woman has participated in the presidential race (something that has undoubtedly attracted the vote of a certain reformist sector); and, for the first time, the electoral debates have been an essential part of the electoral campaign.
Among the candidates there is great ideological plurality (leftists, nationalists, liberals and centrists), which increased the “intrigue” in the electoral race and gave voters the opportunity to choose from a wide range of political movements and their representatives.
International observers looked critically at the elections, as is often the case, including the prestigious Professor Richard Weitz, who at a press conference in Almaty said that “the election is transparent. For me, this is a good sign”.
Overall, his reports have been positive, with the almost unanimous feeling that the elections in Kazakhstan were conducted in competitive conditions, without significant violations and with high civic engagement. The long queues in some polling stations resulted in high turnout (an average of 77% throughout the country, reaching 89% in the Almaty region), a fact that is quite striking for the general tendency in the consolidated democracies of the West to abstain. In Kazakhstan, on the contrary, the interest of the population to participate in politics is maintained, the citizens of the republic now understand more than ever that their voice is important and realize that they are the ones who determine the future of the country.
The demonstrations in Nur-Sultan and Almaty on the day of the vote are also evidence of this interest in political participation, although these demonstrators apparently did not submit the required requests in time and form, and therefore the authorities had to use the police to ensure the safety of other citizens. Tokayev responded to these events by stating that the government was willing to engage in dialogue with its supporters and opponents. In addition, the President-elect of Kazakhstan proposed the creation of a special committee on public confidence in the country.demonstrations are common in any democratic country, although in Kazakhstan the habit of effectively combining both the right to demonstrate and the right to guarantee the safety of other citizens who do not demonstrate has not yet formed. It must be recognised that demonstrations, whatever their type and in whatever country, are also a focus of attraction for all kinds of provocateurs. But in general, the very idea of speaking in public reflects the level of development of civil society in Kazakhstan and the growing responsibility of citizens for the fate of their country. And this is certainly a positive sign. In fact, these elections are in themselves a symbol of the evolution of democratic processes in Kazakhstan, which will certainly have a positive impact on the next parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan in 2021, as there will be greater plurality and diversity of parties.
With Tokayev’s arrival, the process of peaceful changeover of leaders will be consummated, something that is unprecedented in the post-Soviet environment.
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