Kazakh leader headed for huge election victory, exit polls show

Almaty Nov 20 (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev cruised to a landslide victory in Sunday’s election, consolidating his grip on power less than a year after ousting his predecessor, Nursultan. Nazarbayev

The former diplomat, who came to power in 2019 as the successor to Nazarbayev, the Central Asian nation’s only deposed ruler since the Soviet era, broke with his former patron in the January uprising, which Tokaev called a coup attempt.

A new electoral victory – polls show him winning between 82% and 85% of the vote – would give 69-year-old Tokaev, who Nazarbayev has built a cult of personality in five years in office and won five consecutive terms.

Nazarbayev, who held key positions after stepping down, gave them up during the uprising earlier this year that left 238 people dead. Tokayev later forced Nazarbayev’s allies to give up other positions, changed the city’s name to “Nur-Sultan” and returned to Astana in Nazarbayev’s honor.

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Tokayev called for Russian help to quell the January unrest, but distanced himself from Moscow by not giving public support to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s biggest trading partner, and Russia’s recession has hurt its neighbor’s economy, while the ruble’s strength has pushed inflation in Kazakhstan to a 14-year high due to capital controls.

Tokayev, a former foreign minister and deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, oversaw constitutional reforms that limited his autonomy to two terms. It also promises to reduce income inequality by rooting out corruption and redistributing wealth.

Presidential elections were originally scheduled for late 2024, but were postponed following unrest in January and a subsequent constitutional referendum. Tokaev said on Sunday that he would overhaul the political system by calling for parliamentary elections early next year. Tokaev resigned from the ruling Amanat party this year and oversaw reforms to make it easier for new political parties to form.

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Opinion polls predict none of the five other candidates in double digits in Sunday’s vote.

“I know Tokayev first among the candidates for president,” Timerlan Sadykov, a resident of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, said on the eve of the vote.

“Secondly, the way he conducts himself on the international stage is very attractive.”

One Almaty voter, a 35-year-old manager who gave his first name only as Serik, said he voted for all candidates.

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“… I think we have to realize that the powers that be don’t give us a choice,” he said.

Police detained a few dozen people in Almaty, where smaller protests against the vote were held, according to opposition groups and local media. Some have been released soon, while others face criminal charges, police said.

As of 9 p.m. local time when polling stations closed across Kazakhstan, 69.4 percent of voters had cast their ballots, the Central Election Commission said. Preliminary results are expected on Monday.

Peter Graff by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva; Frances Kerry Additional reporting by Tamara Vall in Astana Editing by Alexander Smith and Paul Simao

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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