Strongman Nazarbayev tipped for fresh term as Kazakhstan votes
ASTANA - Agence France-Presse
Kazakhstan's President and presidential candidate Nursultan Nazarbayev casts a ballot during a snap presidential election in Astana April 26, 2015. Nazarbayev was set to renew his 26-year grip on power on Sunday, offering the multi-ethnic Central Asian state economic and social stability in return for what rights groups call systematic suppression of opposition. REUTERS/Mukhtar KholdorbekovPolls got underway on April 26 in energy-rich Kazakhstan for a ballot almost certain to re-elect 74-year-old strongman incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Voting at over 9,000 polling stations across the country began at 0100 GMT and will continue until 1400 GMT, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).
Few doubt the victory of autocrat Nazarbayev, who has ruled over the Central Asian country since before independence in 1991. If he wins the five-year term at stake, he will complete three decades as leader.
His marginalised opponents have not offered any candidates for the election but Nazarbayev will face two other rivals, both of whom are widely seen as pro-government figures.
Turgun Syzdykov, a 68-year-old former provincial official who has campaigned on an anti-globalisation platform, railing against Hollywood, hamburgers and computer games, will represent the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan.
Abelgazy Kusainov, 63, who has held several important governmental positions and currently heads the national federation of trade unions, is standing as an independent after running a campaign touching on Kazakhstan’s environmental problems.
Kusainov cast his vote minutes after polling stations opened in the capital Astana.
"This is not an election, it is a re-election," Dosym Saptaev, director of the Kazakhstan Risks Assessment Group, an think tank based in the largest city Almaty, told AFP.
"The significance of the event is no more than the fact that it may well be Nazarbayev’s last."
An Ipsos MORI poll released April 21 showed 91 percent of Kazakhstanis are satisfied with the septuagenarian strongman’s rule.
While the he has never hinted at a successor, Nazarbayev stated his reluctance to run in the April 26 ballot at a meeting with citizens in March, before announcing his candidacy the following week.
Most prosperous Centran Asian state
Economic issues have come to the forefront in the most prosperous of the five Central Asian states, all former members of the Soviet Union.
Domestic producers have been laying off workers in the country as they struggle to compete with Russian imports made cheaper by the dramatic weakening of the sanctions-hit ruble.
Kazakhstan banned a number of Russian foodstuffs from the local market in March and April, citing standards violations, and has also restricted imports of Russian fuel. Moscow, traditionally viewed as a strong ally of the republic, implemented similar measures this month.
Depressed prices for Kazakhstan’s main export, crude oil, have also created another headache for the government.
Tamara, 63, a former accountant preparing to cast her vote in the capital, told AFP she would be voting for Nazarbayev.
"I receive my pension without fuss. It is enough to live on," she said.
"When you watch television -- especially the crisis in Ukraine -- it appears the world is preparing for war. Nazarbayev is a politician who is always on the side of stability."
Over 9.5 million citizens will be eligible to vote in the vast country bordering both Russia and China, which has never held an election deemed free and fair by international monitors.
In its interim report on the vote, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) raised concerns about Nazarbayev’s "institutional advantage".
While Nazarbayev’s posters and billboards are "visible throughout the country," the other two candidates have distributed "almost no campaign materials," the OSCE said.
Nazarbayev won a 2011 election with 95.5 percent of the vote. Sunday’s ballot -- called a year ahead of schedule -- is the fifth he has contested.
On April 20, the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced the completion of the accreditation process for over 1,000 international observers, including 168 representatives of the foreign press.
The OSCE has sent almost 300 observers to the vote, although two members of the mission had their accreditation revoked by the government at the organisation’s own request, the CEC said April 25.