Kazakh ex-president's party set to retain hold on power in polls

Nursultan Nazarbayev speaking to the media during a parliamentary election in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, on Jan 10, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

ALMATY/NUR-SULTAN (REUTERS) - A party led by Kazakhstan's powerful former president Nursultan Nazarbayev is set to sweep Sunday's (Jan 10) parliamentary election, as it has done for decades, with no major opposition groups running in the vote.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, handpicked by Mr Nazarbayev as his successor in 2019, is also a senior member of the Nur Otan political party which controls 84 of 107 seats in Kazakhstan's lower house.

None of the four other parties running in the election has openly criticised Mr Nazarbayev or Mr Tokayev, focusing their fire on lower-level officials and their policies instead, an arrangement that government critics say is meant to create an illusion of pluralism.

The Nationwide Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party in the Central Asian nation, is boycotting the vote.

Another opposition movement, the Democratic Party, failed to secure official registration ahead of the vote.

A few dozen members and supporters of the latter rallied at a square in Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty on Sunday, shouting "Boycott!" and "Nazarbayev go away!" but were quickly surrounded by police who detained about 30 people.

The absence of competition will dampen hopes of political reform encouraged by Kazakhstan's Western partners. But it will aid in ensuring stability that has helped the country of 19 million attract hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment, primarily into the oil, gas and mining sectors.

Also, in an attempt to modernise the system without relinquishing his party's tight grip on power, Mr Tokayev has overseen the introduction of quotas for women and under-29s in political parties' candidate lists.

"(Further) reforms are being prepared," Mr Tokayev told reporters after casting his ballot in the capital city of Nur-Sultan. "Reforms must not stop."

One notable female candidate running on the Nur Otan ticket is Ms Dariga Nazarbayeva, the former president's eldest daughter who vanished from politics and public view last May when Mr Tokayev removed her from the post of upper house speaker.

Ms Nazarbayeva's return to politics has revived speculation that she might eventually run for presidency. Despite stepping down nearly two years ago, her 80-year-old father remains hugely influential. In addition to leading the ruling party, he chairs the powerful national security council.

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