Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country rich in oil and gas, is holding parliamentary and local elections on Sunday, March 19, 2023. The elections are part of the political reforms initiated by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who came to power in March 2019 after his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned after nearly three decades of rule.
More than 12 million voters are eligible to elect 98 deputies of the lower house of parliament (Mazhilis) and members of local councils. The voting will end at 8:00 p.m. local time (2:00 p.m. GMT).
For the first time, deputies will be elected according to a mixed system: 69 will be elected by party lists and 29 by majority constituencies. In previous legislatures, all members of the chamber were elected by party lists.
The seven registered parties in Kazakhstan presented lists of candidates to access the proportional distribution of the 69 seats, which requires exceeding 5 percent of the vote. A total of 435 candidates, 359 independent and 76 representing political formations, are competing in the 29 majority constituencies.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) has accredited more than 800 observers from 41 countries and 12 international organizations to monitor the elections. According to the CEC, turnout reached 30.65% of the census within the first five hours of voting.
The ruling Amanat party, previously known as Nur Otan until 2022, is widely expected to win a majority of seats in parliament. The party is led by Nazarbayev, who still holds significant influence as chairman of Kazakhstan’s Security Council and leader of its ruling party.
The elections follow a constitutional referendum in June and a snap presidential election in November that confirmed Tokayev’s position as Kazakhstan’s leader. Tokayev had promised to allow more competition in the political sphere soon after he took power.
The elections also come amid social unrest sparked by rising prices for liquefied gas and other goods in January last year. Tokayev announced several measures to appease protesters, including increasing social benefits, lowering taxes for low-income earners and creating a national council for public trust.
Tokayev has also pledged to modernize Kazakhstan’s economy, diversify its exports and attract foreign investment. He has also vowed to fight corruption, improve human rights and strengthen civil society.
However, some critics have questioned Tokayev’s commitment to genuine democratic reforms and accused him of cracking down on dissenting voices. Several opposition activists have been arrested or barred from running in the elections on various charges.
Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic that gained independence in 1991. It has a population of about 19 million people and covers an area larger than Western Europe.