(By Dr Shahid Qureshi in Nur Sultan): –
Kazakhstan on Sunday elected interim leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the hand-picked successor of long-term former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, with around 70% of the vote, exit polls showed.
The government-approved “Public Opinion” pollster gave Tokayev 70.13% while his closest rival, opposition candidate Amirzhan Kosanov received 15.39%.
Kazakhs went to the polls Sunday to elect their first new leader in 30 years following the departure of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The former President cast his vote in the central poling station in Nur Sultan at 10 am in front of international observers and media.
Career diplomat and interim president Tokayev, 66, is running for the ruling party with enthusiastic backing from Nazarbayev, who stepped down from the presidency in March.
The 78-year-old strongman’s departure shocked Kazakhs who had lived under his rule since Soviet times but he is still expected to call the shots in the oil-rich Central Asian state of 18 million people.
Tokayev has six rivals in the polls that opened at 0100 GMT including one low-key opposition figure, but none are widely known in Muslim-majority Kazakhstan.
Tokayev, by contrast, has won endorsements from pop stars and film actors, and appears to have the weight of the state machine behind him.
Both men voted early in the capital Nur-Sultan.
After voting at around 0400 GMT at the lavish state opera house in the capital Nur-Sultan, Tokayev spoke in English with reporters, and acknowledged that Nazarbayev “was still in power in the capacity of chairman of the security council… and other capacities.”
Responding to concerns about police crackdowns on protests ahead of the vote, Tokayev pledged his administration would be “building up a dialogue with all those who support the government and those who are against the government.”
Marat Sagyndykov, a retired 65-year-old former civil servant in the largest city Almaty said he had voted for shoo-in Tokayev “in order to continue the course of the Leader of the Nation”, referring to Nazarbayev’s constitutionally designated status.
“I think in 30 years we have had some successes. There have been negatives, too, but they exist in all countries,” Sagyndykov told AFP.
One of the two Kazakh polling agencies permitted by authorities to operate in the run-up to the vote found Tokayev would win nearly 73 percent of the vote.
Four years ago Nazarbayev scored nearly 98 percent of a virtually uncontested vote where the official turnout was 95 percent.
No Kazakh vote has ever been recognized as fully democratic by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has sent more than 300 observers to monitor this election.
Nazarbayev’s foreign-based political nemesis, fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, called for protests in cities across the country on Sunday and Monday.