Kazakhstan elects new parliament early
Astana The traces of the great unrest with many deaths more than a year ago are in Almaty in the south of the Central Asian republic Kazakhstan still visible. The city administration, which was badly damaged at the time, is still surrounded by dense construction fences, and workers are currently repairing the facade. Posters for the parliamentary elections, to which around twelve million citizens were called on Sunday, are hanging everywhere in the surrounding streets. After all the horror, the posters promise better times, more social justice and financial security.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who has often been criticized for being authoritarian, has brought forward the vote for the national parliament “Mashilis”, which was elected just over two years ago. Also regional and municipal representations of the former Soviet country on the border Russia and China are now being reassembled.
It is one of the head of state’s numerous reactions to the protests in January 2022. These originally began as anti-government expressions of dissatisfaction with rising gas prices and then turned into a power struggle between elites in the state.
Tokayev used the unrest at the time to oust his predecessor and former foster father, former long-term president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was still extremely influential. With the help of allied Russian troops, Tokayev had the protests violently suppressed. More than 200 people were killed, many of them civilians.
Tokaev later pushed through a constitutional amendment, initiated reforms and removed Nazarbayev confidants from the power apparatus. Even the capital named after Nazarbayev has since been renamed from Nur-Sultan to Astana. Last November, the 69-year-old head of state was confirmed in office in a presidential election that was also held early – and then scheduled new parliamentary elections.
Officially, Tokayev now wants to offer his compatriots a “new Kazakhstan” with more participation and greater political choice. Two new parties were registered for this election and several independent candidates were admitted. In addition, for the first time, all 98 MPs are directly elected by the people. International election observers also praise the lowering of the hurdle for a party to enter the House of Commons from seven to five percent. At the same time, they criticize the lack of freedom of the press, opinion and assembly in the country with its 19 million inhabitants.
In the eyes of independent Kazakh experts, on the other hand, the new voting regulations primarily serve Tokayev’s retention and legitimacy in power. The political scientist Dimasch Alschanow, for example, speaks of window dressing: “These changes create the illusion that a lot of people are allegedly fighting for seats in parliament,” he says in an interview with the German Press Agency.
In reality, however, in addition to the governing party “Amanat”, the other six parties were largely loyal to Tokayev. Serious opponents were hardly admitted.
Civil rights activist: Criticism of Putin is an attempt to circumvent sanctions
“These elections can be described as an attempt to create a more convincing imitation of competition,” says Alshanow. Many citizens understand that too, but after Tokayev’s brutal actions last year, there is hardly any major public opposition at the moment. “Society has suffered a pretty severe shock,” says Alschanow.
Lawyer and civil rights activist Aina Shormanbaeva demands: “We need an international investigation into the protests.” There can be no justice as long as the killing of so many people by the state apparatus is not clarified.
Under their current president, Shormanbayeva and Alshanov do not believe that detachment from their large neighbor Russia is realistic, nor do they believe that a real reform process is realistic – even if Tokayev has taken a remarkably distanced stance towards Moscow in the wake of the Russian war against Ukraine. For example, last summer he caused quite a stir when, during a visit to Moscow, he told Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin to his face that he still recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which had meanwhile been illegally annexed, as Ukrainian.
But such appearances in no way mean a turning away from important ally Russia, but rather a simple attempt to avoid Western sanctions, says Shormanbayeva. “Kazakhstan is caught between many chairs.”
The political scientist Alschanow, on the other hand, points out that economic dependence on Russia is much greater than, for example, on Germany, for which Kazakhstan is the most important partner in Central Asia. Even the oil that Kazakhstan is now supplying to Germany flows through Russian territory. According to the expert, in order to change these conditions, the West would have to work out alternative trade routes and transport routes.
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