A Not-So-New Kazakhstan

Written by Allan Millward

Kazakhstan’s snap election for its lower house, the Majilis, was conducted on March 19th and has since concluded. Despite President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s promises of “modernization” and a “New Kazakhstan” in response to protests last year, the results already cemented the current order. The President’s ally in parliament, the Amanat (formerly Nur Otan) party, is set to receive 53 to 54 percent of the vote, more than enough to form a majority government. Meanwhile, Auyl (Village) achieved second place with 11 percent and will enter parliament for the first time. Ak Zhol and the People’s Party of Kazakhstan will remain in the Majilis with around nine and six percent, respectively. Finally, a newly formed party, Respublica, will join the legislator with about nine percent in exit polls. Despite new parties entering the Majilis, all parties are considered pro-government or pro-president. Actual opponents of the government, both in unregistered parties and certain members of sitting parties, have accused authorities of irregularities and vote rigging.

Voter turnout for the election was an abysmal 54.2 percent, according to the Central Election Commission, down from the previous low of 63 percent. Turnout in the largest city, Almaty, was even lower at 26 percent. International observers praised lowering the parliamentary threshold, admission of non-party candidates, and quotas for women, young people, and individuals with disabilities. However, they also criticized a lack of press freedom and freedom of speech. According to The Organization for Security and Cooperation’s (OSCE) post-vote assessment, the election brought “Kazakhstan closer to holding elections in line with international standards,” but “limits on the exercise of fundamental freedoms remain, and some political groups continued to be prevented from participation as parties in elections.”

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