Kazakhstan held a snap parliamentary election on Sunday, which is widely expected to cement President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s grip on power and complete a reshuffle of the ruling elite that began after he fully assumed leadership last year.
A stronger mandate will help Tokayev navigate through regional turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent damage to trade, investment, and supply chains throughout the former Soviet Union.
Although he formally became president in 2019, Tokayev, 69, had remained in the shadow of his predecessor and former patron Nursultan Nazarbayev until January 2022, when the two fell out amid an attempted coup and violent unrest.
Tokayev sidelined Nazarbayev, after suppressing the political unrest in the oil-rich Central Asian country and had a number of his associates removed from senior positions in the public sector, some of whom later faced corruption charges.
While Tokayev has reshuffled the government, the lower house of parliament – elected when Nazarbayev still had sweeping powers and led the ruling Nur Otan party – was not due for election until 2026, and the president called a snap vote.
Unlike Nazarbayev, Tokayev has chosen not to lead the ruling party, rebranded Amanat, but polls show it is likely to retain a comfortable majority and form the core of his support base in the legislature, especially in the absence of strong opposition parties on the ballot.
However, for the first time in almost two decades, several opposition figures are running as independents, a move which may allow some government critics to win a limited number of seats.
Still, in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city which usually shows most support for the opposition, voting appeared slow on Sunday morning amid heavy police presence on the streets.
“We keep complaining that nothing changes in our country and we ourselves take no part in our country’s political life,” said Yevgeniya, a 36-year-old marketing executive who declined to give her last name or say for whom she voted. “Going out and voting is the least we can do to bring about change.”
Tokayev, who cast his ballot in Astana early in the morning without talking to the press, has said the vote would allow him to start implementing his plan to reform the country and ensure a fairer distribution of its oil wealth.
The completion of the political transition is also likely to strengthen Tokayev’s hand in foreign policy. Despite receiving Moscow’s backing during the 2022 unrest, he has refused to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or recognize its annexation of some Ukrainian territories.
At the same time, Astana is trying to maintain good relationships with both Moscow, its neighbor, and major trading partner, and the West, which seeks to isolate Russia.