Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev’s chosen presidential successor leads exit poll as hundreds of protesters detained

tokayev-election-akorda-4da

NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — The first exit-poll results from Kazakhstan’s June 9 snap presidential elections pointed to an overwhelming victory for interim President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, who was handpicked by former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev to be his successor, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.

In an election marred by the arrest of hundreds of peaceful anti-government protesters, the first exit poll gave Tokayev 70.13 percent of the vote. Former journalist Amirzhan Kosanov was a very distant second with 15.39 percent in the poll, conducted by the Qoghamdyq Pikir Institute.

The snap presidential election in the energy-rich Central Asian country was carefully controlled, with Tokayev facing six virtually unknown candidates who had no comparable resources or support to Toqaev or the state apparatus that was behind his election campaign.

A wave of protests across Kazakhstan against the lack of fairness in the election continued on election day on June 9, with police acting quickly to end any rallies.

More than 100 protesters were detained in Astana Square in Kazakhstan’s largest city of Almaty, as demonstrators called for a boycott of the election.

RFE/RL correspondents reported that some 500 people held an anti-government rally near the Palace of Youth in the capital, Nur-Sultan — newly renamed after the former president.

They said that police detained some 100 protesters in the capital, including several foreign and local journalists covering the event.

A second wave of detentions took place hours later at the same site, with dozens of people being detained where some demonstrators had refused to leave. Dozens of people also drove their vehicles to the square and honked their horns in support of the protesters.

Deputy Interior Minister Marat Qozhaev told journalists in Nur-Sultan that about 500 “radically-minded elements” were detained in Almaty and the capital for holding “unauthorized protests.” He said earlier that the detentions were made in order “to preserve law and order.”

Internet access in Nur-Sultan and Almaty was reported to be extremely slow, preventing live streaming and making it very difficult to read social-media sites.

Security measures were heavily stepped up in the capital and in Almaty, with dozens of police officers deployed in Astana Square and elsewhere in the city.

The protesters in Nur-Sultan were calling for free and fair elections and were holding blue balloons, a sign of support for a banned opposition group, Kazakhstan’s Democratic Choice (DVK).

The movement’s leader is Mukhtar Ablyazov, a vocal critic of Nazarbayev and his government, who lives in self-imposed exile in France. Ablyazov has urged people in the past to hold blue balloons at anti-government rallies.

Another opposition leader, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who lives in exile in London, told Current Time Asia that the election was “managed.”

Tokayev “does not feel like a leader at all,” he said. “He came [to vote] as if he was battered. It is a very difficult start for him, because he is under the burden of 30 years of Nazarbayev’s family in power. He’s having a very hard time.”

Tokayev, 66, was tapped by longtime authoritarian President Nazarbayev as his successor when he stepped down on March 19 after nearly 30 years leading the energy-rich country, the largest in Central Asia.

Tokayev voted at a station in the Astana Opera House in Nur-Sultan.

“Our people are concerned about many social and economic issues,” he told reporters. “This is why elections are a good opportunity to decide who is going to lead the country, what our country will be like in the future.”

Answering a question from RFE/RL regarding people protesting the snap election and their slogan “Tokayev is not my president!” the interim president said he was aware of it.

“If some citizens raise that slogan then that is their choice,” Tokayev said.

A career diplomat educated in Moscow and considered an expert on China, Tokayev has served as Kazakh prime minister, foreign minister, and chairman of the Senate. He also worked for the United Nations in Geneva in 2011-13.

Tokayev has said publicly that he will continue the same policies as Nazarbayev if elected as president.

Sergey Kwan

TCA