In Kazakhstan, legislative without suspense and without opposition

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Voters vote Sunday in Kazakhstan in legislative elections which should result in an easy victory for the ruling party, in the absence of the only opposition formation authorized in this authoritarian country in Central Asia.

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President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 67, has promised political reforms since his election two years ago with the support of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who announced his surprise resignation in 2019 after almost three decades in power.

Now in the shadows, Mr. Nazarbayev, 80, nevertheless retains considerable influence and key positions, notably the chairmanship of the powerful majority party, Nour Otan.

The latter has 800,000 inserts in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic four times the size of France, but where only a little less than 19 million people live.

Besides Nour Otan, four other parties are taking part in Sunday’s ballot for the renewal of the lower house of Parliament. None of them are hostile to power.

In the capital Nur-Sultan, the former Astana renamed in honor of the ex-president, Nourjan, a 50-year-old voter, points out that “many Kazakhs have stopped believing in progress”.

“But me, I always hope that things will get better,” he adds, without giving his last name, to explain his decision to vote despite the freezing weather.

No election in the country has ever been recognized as fair by Western observers.


The National Social Democratic Party (NSDP), which claims to be in opposition despite criticism questioning this position, announced in November not to stand for election as a sign of “protest”.

Nursultan Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbaïeva, 57, will be a candidate for the Nour Otan party. Last year, she was dismissed from her post as President of the Senate, which placed her as the head of state’s replacement in the event of a vacancy in power.

His surprise departure, without official explanation, had been attributed to a decision by President Tokayev and seen as a sign of a possible political struggle between the latter and the Nazarbayev clan.

However, Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev regularly praises his mentor and predecessor, whose strategic choices he defends. And the two men appeared together, in November, at a Nour Otan congress.

After voting in Nur-Sultan on Sunday, Tokayev announced that he would unveil new reforms on January 15, in front of parliament.

While several opposition groups plan to demonstrate on election day, the Kazakh president has promised that the police will act “within the framework of the law”.

Thanks to its wealth in minerals and hydrocarbons, Kazakhstan is considered a haven of prosperity in Central Asia. It maintains both good relations with the West and its Chinese and Russian neighbors.

However, according to the World Bank, Kazakhstan’s GDP is expected to fall by 2.5% in 2020, the country’s first recession in two decades, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.


In a state shaped by authoritarianism since gaining independence in 1991, few critical voices remain to express discontent.

In the last three elections, the NSDP party has consistently failed to enter Parliament. This year, his decision to boycott the vote came after the main opponent in exile, Mukhtar Abliazov, called for a vote for the NSDP.

After the withdrawal of the NSDP, Abliazov called for voting for the pro-government party Ak Jol, with the objective of weakening the majority in power at all costs.

According to human rights groups, authorities pressured opposition activists campaigning for Ak Jol, including fines for distributing leaflets and arrests.

Last month, the US embassy said it was “alarmed” by the decision to introduce new restrictions on independent election observers, who had reported numerous ballot box stuffing during the 2019 presidential election.

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