Kazakh leader headed for huge election victory, exit polls show

ALMATO, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev swept to a landslide victory in a snap election on Sunday, according to exit polls, a year after his predecessor Nursultan stepped down. strengthened. Nazarbaev.

The former diplomat, who came to power as Nazarbayev’s handpicked successor in 2019 when the Central Asian country’s only ruler since the Soviet era stepped down, parted ways with his former patron after the January uprising, which Tokayev called an attempted coup.

The new election victory – polls showed him with 82 to 85 percent of the vote – gives Tokayev, 69, the kind of massive personal mandate that Nazarbayev has consistently provided with a cult of personality for five consecutive terms.

Nazarbayev, who held important positions after his resignation, gave them up during the riots of the beginning of this year, in which 238 people were killed. Since then, Tokayev forced Nazarbayev’s allies to leave other positions and changed the name of the capital, which was named “Nur-Sultan” in honor of Nazarbayev, to Astana.

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Tokayev sought Russia’s help to quell the January riots, but has since distanced himself from Moscow, refusing to publicly support Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s biggest trading partner, and Russia’s slide into recession has hurt its neighbor’s economy, while the stability of the ruble, boosted by capital controls, has helped boost inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high.

Tokayev, a former foreign minister and deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, oversaw constitutional reforms that would limit his rule to two terms. He has also promised to reduce income inequality by rooting out corruption and fairer distribution of wealth in the country of 19 million people.

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Presidential elections were originally scheduled for late 2024, but were postponed following January unrest and a subsequent constitutional referendum. Tokayev said on Sunday that he will continue to “reorganize” the political system by calling early parliamentary elections next year. Tokayev left the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms that would make it easier to create new political parties.

Opinion polls have predicted that none of the other five candidates will reach double digits in Sunday’s vote.

Timerlan Sodikov, a resident of Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, said on the eve of the vote: “Among those who are running for the presidency, I know only Tokaev, first of all.”

“And secondly, the way he behaved on the international stage was very interesting.”

Another Almaty voter, a 35-year-old manager who gave his name only as Serik, said he voted against all the candidates.

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“…I think the powers that be need to realize that they haven’t given us a real choice,” he said.

According to opposition groups and local media, police arrested several dozen people in Almaty who organized a small protest against the vote, calling it illegal. Police said some were quickly released, while others faced misdemeanor charges.

The Central Election Commission said that until 21:00 local time, polling stations were closed across Kazakhstan, 69.4% of voters participated in voting. Preliminary results of the vote are expected to be announced on Monday.

Reporting by Oljas Auezov and Maria Gordeeva Additional reporting by Tamara Wall in Astana Editing by Peter Graf, Frances Kerry, Alexander Smith and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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