On Sunday, March 19, extraordinary parliamentary elections were held in Kazakhstan. The elections have further solidified President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev’s leadership and power since he took office for a new term late last year.
The elections are part of Tokayev’s ambitious plan to modernize Kazakhstan and turn it into a “model nation” for Central Asia called “New Kazakhstan.” The extraordinary polls are the first step in his five-year program, which includes constitutional reforms, economic development and social reforms.
Polling stations opened at 8 am local time on Sunday morning, and more than 10 million eligible voters cast their ballots for 77 members of parliament – 19 from each of the four major political parties.
“The elections are seen as an important step forward for Kazakhstan’s democracy as it seeks to modernize its economy and become a leader among the countries of Central Asia. The outcome of these elections will determine the future development path that New Kazakhstan will take under the leadership of President Tokayev during his five-year term of office.”
The election results show that President Tokayev has strong authority to implement his reform agenda, including proposed constitutional amendments that would increase presidential powers and reduce parliamentary powers. He also plans to introduce human rights legislation and anti-corruption measures, as well as economic initiatives such as tax cuts for businesses and individuals.
Kazakhstan is considered one of the most stable countries in the Central Asian region, thanks in large part to its vast oil reserves, but much remains to be done if it is to become a model country. It will be interesting to see what new policies President Tokayev can implement to bring about real change while maintaining stability.
Exit polls conducted on Sunday following early elections to Kazakhstan’s parliament and local councils showed that six of the seven political parties running for office passed the threshold required to enter the lower house of the legislature. According to the Central Election Commission, voter turnout was 54.2%. This is the lowest turnout in parliamentary elections in the country’s history since independence. Within 10 days, the Central Electoral Commission will announce the final results of the elections.
According to a poll conducted by the Eurasian Integration Institute of 30,000 voters in 200 polling stations, including 124 in cities and 76 in villages, the ruling Amanat party came first with 53.46% of the vote, enough to maintain a comfortable majority. The second place was taken by the People’s Democratic Party “Auyl” with 10.52%, and the “Republic” party, which participated in the elections for the first time, took third place with 8.9%. The Ak Zhol Democratic Party received 7.87%, the People’s Party of Kazakhstan – 6.25%, the National Social Democratic Party – 5.31% and the Baitak Party – 3.22%. In addition to the Baitak Party, the new Green Party, which did not win 5% of the vote to enter the lower house of Kazakhstan’s parliament, other six political parties scored the required number of points to enter parliament.
A total of 281 candidates from seven party lists competed for 69 seats in the Mazhilis, in addition to hundreds of candidates in 29 single-member constituencies, mostly self-nominated. At the same time, 793 international observers from 41 foreign states and 12 international organizations observed the course of the elections.
Irene Charalambides, Special Coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and leader of short-term observers, said her organization notes some improvements , including in the electoral law, but Kazakhstan will only achieve its stated political goal of democratic development if far-reaching reforms continue. In general, accreditation of civilian and international observers was inclusive. although meaningful observation was not always provided due to limitations during the counting and tabulation processes.
Tokayev, who voted in Astana early Sunday morning, said the vote would allow him to proceed with his plan to reform the Central Asian nation and ensure a more equitable distribution of its oil wealth. A full political transition is also likely to strengthen Tokayev’s position in foreign policy. Both Tokayev and 82-year-old former President Nursultan Nazarbayev voted on Sunday morning.
A stronger mandate will help Tokayev deal with the regional unrest caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the damage to trade, investment and supply chains in the former Soviet Union. Although Tokayev reshuffled the government after formally becoming president in 2019, the lower house of parliament, which was elected when Nazarbayev still held broad power and led the ruling Nur Otan party, was not to be elected until 2026. Therefore, Tokayev called for early elections.
Despite Moscow’s support during the 2022 unrest, Tokayev refused to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or recognize its annexation of some Ukrainian territories. Under the Tokayev administration, Astana is trying to maintain good relations with all the major players, including Moscow, its neighbor and major trading partner, and China, its neighbor to the East and West.