In Kazakhstan, 500 Detained After Protesting Election Seen as Shoo-In
Hundreds of people chanting, “Shame! Shame!” staged protests in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, the capital, where police officers in riot gear forcefully dispersed the crowd. The Interior Ministry said about 500 people had been detained, describing them as “radical elements seeking to destabilize society.”
The election was set to confirm Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as the successor to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ran the oil-rich former Soviet republic for almost three decades before stepping down in March. He retains sweeping powers, and handpicked Mr. Tokayev, a diplomat, to succeed him.
For many of Kazakhstan’s 12 million registered voters, Mr. Tokayev, the interim president and also a former prime minister, was the only familiar face among seven candidates in a brief and uneventful campaign.
“Well, Nazarbayev is no longer on the ballot, and I don’t know any of the other candidates,” said Natalya, a retiree, after voting for Mr. Tokayev, 66.
The Election Commission reported a turnout of 77 percent by the time polls closed in most of the country, and said it would announce preliminary results on Monday.
One of the most prosperous former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan stands at a crossroads between China and Russia. And the anticipated smooth transition was viewed as positive news by those neighboring countries, as well as by foreign energy and mining companies that have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in the Central Asian state.
Mr. Tokayev has promised to take guidance from Mr. Nazarbayev, 78, on strategic matters. Insiders say the men effectively share the presidential palace, although Mr. Nazarbayev’s new office is in a different building.
The arrangement under which Mr. Nazarbayev effectively remains in charge ensures continuity but also means lingering political uncertainty until he withdraws from politics. Mr. Nazarbayev had routinely taken more than 90 percent of the vote in previous elections described by Western observers as neither free nor fair.
Before assuming the presidency, Mr. Tokayev was chairman of the upper chamber of the rubber-stamp Kazakh Parliament, which is effectively devoid of opposition. Broader dissent is largely stifled through the control of news media and social networks.
Mr. Tokayev cast his ballot in the capital, Nur-Sultan, previously known as Astana, which was renamed in honor of Mr. Nazarbayev this year. After voting, Mr. Tokayev urged the police and protesters to be tolerant, and he said that he planned to include young activists critical of the government in a special committee to promote dialogue.
Facebook and Telegram, a mobile messaging app popular in the country, were inaccessible early on Sunday in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. But that did not prevent hundreds from rallying there and in Nur-Sultan.
Mr. Tokayev, who studied at an elite Soviet diplomatic school in Moscow, is likely to continue Mr. Nazarbayev’s policy of maintaining a foreign policy that attempts to balance the influences of China, Russia and the West.
That approach has helped Kazakhstan attract foreign investment and open up markets for its oil and metals exports. As interim leader, Mr. Tokayev appointed new deputy ministers but eschewed major personnel or policy changes.