ASTANA — On 1 September 2022, during the State of the Nation Address, President Tokayev announced snap presidential elections to take place, insisting that a "new mandate of trust from the people" was necessary as a basis of his decision. The ‘need’ for these elections comes after nearly three years of unrivalled political turmoil, intrigue and dissent in a country that has not only been at peace but is also seen as the peacemaker since its independence in December 1991.
The last Presidential elections in 2019 saw seven registered candidates, making it the election with the largest number of presidential candidates in Kazakhstan's history. The nominees from political parties and public associations included Dania Espaeva, the first Kazakh woman to officially participate in elections.
Campaigning was focused on a number of issues including the legacy of former President Nazarbayev's policies and the current political system, in which presidential candidates proposed solutions from further democratisation and decommunization to the development of the nation's values.
Tokayev's victory was marked as the first peaceful transition of power in Kazakhstan's history, despite "significant irregularities” being observed on election day, including cases of ballot box stuffing, and a disregard of counting procedures meaning that an “honest count could not be guaranteed," said the OSCE in their Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions.
On 12 June 2019, Tokayev took the oath of office during a ceremony in the capital, Nur-Sultan, where he pledged to protect the interests of every citizen and consider any proposals and initiatives that would be put forward by political and community leaders.
Fast forward to November 2022 and the country seems a very different place — widespread unrest in January described as a ‘Coup D'etat’, the purging of Nazarbayev’s supporters, not to mention the effects of the COVID pandemic, inflation at previously unseen levels and a neighbouring country involved in a vicious military conflict, have all made their mark on the psyche of the everyday Kazakh. People are openly discussing and questioning the authorities, something that was unheard of under President Nazarbayev, and they are wanting answers and solutions.
At the November 2022 elections there are six candidates registered — two women and four men — and despite the short time frame canvassing has been carried out feverishly, on many of the same issues as in 2019. Feelings are running high and many ordinary people believe that this could be the first truly free elections in Kazakhstan’s history but many have their reservations believing that new constitutional powers allow for ‘window dressing’ and the old order being returned to power, in particular younger people appear disenfranchised.
The elections are being overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which has opened its election observation mission in Astana. The mission, headed by Urszula Gacek, consists of 11 international experts and 30 long-term observers which would be deployed across Kazakhstan from 26th October and that an additional 300 short-term observers would arrive several days before polls open on the 20th November.
To quote the disputed Chinese curse — “May you live in interesting times!” — Kazakhstan has always been interesting but these are very interesting times indeed!