In this photo released by the Kazakh Presidential Press Office, Kazakh President Kasym-Žomart Kemeluly Tokayev casts his vote at a polling station in Astana, Kazakhstan, Sunday, March 19, 2023.
Astana – Early parliamentary elections are being held in Kazakhstan today due to a change in the electoral system earlier than planned. The interest in them is considerable, over 30 percent of voters came to vote in the first five hours, the EFE agency reported. According to polls, the ruling Amanat party of President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev will probably win the election, but independent candidates could also get into the lower house of the parliament based on the new system.
Photogallery: Elections in Kazakhstan
Last January, Kazakhstan was swept by mass protests, the suppression of which resulted in over 200 deaths. But today's vote is calm. Polling stations will close at 20:00 local time (15:00 CET). The first results are expected on Monday, the final results must be announced by March 29, the Astana Times website reported.
About 12.3 million out of a total population of roughly 19 million can vote, 98 members of the lower house of parliament are elected . The elections are being held early due to constitutional reforms announced by President Tokayev after last year's anti-government protests.
The novelty of today's elections in this country rich in oil and natural gas is that voters are not only choosing from representatives of political parties, but also from independent candidates. The minimum threshold for entering parliament was also newly reduced from seven to five percent. According to the DPA agency, international observers also welcomed the news, but at the same time criticized the continued lack of freedom of the press and speech.
The now 69-year-old Tokayev has been president since March 2019, succeeding Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of state, who ruled post-Soviet Kazakhstan since independence in 1991. He resigned unexpectedly in March 2019, but still retained an influential position in the country until last January's riots. These broke out at first as demonstrations against rising fuel prices, but later turned into violent protests against the government. The mob also attacked government buildings in several cities. The regime harshly suppressed the unrest, and Tokayev asked for help from Russia and other post-Soviet states, which temporarily sent their troops there.
During the unrest, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the influential post of chairman of the Security Council and later announced reforms. Tokayev's government also returned the name Astana to the capital last year. In 2019, the metropolis was renamed Nur-Sultan, in honor of former president Nazarbayev. Tokayev's reforms also strengthened the powers of the parliament and limited them to the president. However, due to changes in the electoral system, the presidential elections had to be held again, which Tokayev won again in November with 81 percent of the vote.