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Kazakhstan to hold senate elections


Kazakhstan to hold senate elections

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Photo: REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva

Kazakhstan will hold elections today for its Senate—the country’s upper legislative house—to fill 17 of the body’s 47 seats.

Incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took power after a questionable election following the resignation of long-time ruler Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. His promises to liberalise the country’s political and economic systems will be put to the test in today’s vote. Although current elections have broken the record for most nominees registered, fears of election fraud have not abated. Prior elections saw the arrest of pro-democracy activists, the exclusion of nominees from ballots and strict restrictions on party registration, further stoking scepticism.

Expect today’s vote to confirm Nazarbayev’s political allies while he continues to pull strings as the leader of the ruling Nur Otan party and chairman of the Kazakh Security Council. Protests and the detainment of activists are highly likely as unofficial democratic parties continue to fight against the new protest law.

However, Tokayev’s removal of Nazarbayev’s daughter as speaker of the Senate and second in line to the presidency as well as his effective COVID-19 response are signals of the president’s growing independent power. By staying the course and co-opting protest movements while resisting cooperation, the proceeding senatorial confirmations are not likely to limit Tokayev’s power, as he has not deviated from Nazarbayev’s autocratic governance. In the long-term, Tokayev, a staunch supporter of China-Kazakh relations, will likely liberalise economic systems while continuing to co-opt political opponents, thereby securing Nazarbayev’s support.

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