Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has secured a second term in a snap election, winning 81.3 percent of the vote.
The Central Asian nation’s Central Election Commission made the announcement on Monday citing preliminary data.
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Tokayev had been widely expected to extend his rule over the oil-rich nation by seven more years with a strong mandate to continue his increasingly independent foreign policy, as the former Soviet republic navigates the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
“We can say that the people have expressed convincing confidence in me as president and all of you,” Tokayev, 69, told his staff earlier, referring to exit polls that favoured him.
The campaign would “go down in history”, the former diplomat added.
Tokayev faced no real opposition candidates in a nation where critics are sidelined and all five of his competitors were virtually unknown.
Voter turnout was 69.4 percent, with five other candidates scoring in the low single digits, data showed. Voters’ second most popular choice was “against everyone” with 5.8 percent of ballots.
Prompted by the exit polls, several fellow Central Asian leaders congratulated Tokayev on Monday before the preliminary results.
Tokayev won his first election in 2019 with the backing of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, but the two fell out this year amid violent unrest in the nation of 20 million. Sunday’s vote consolidated his power as an independent leader.
In less than a year, Tokayev suppressed the worst anti-government demonstrations in his country’s history, neutralised his all-powerful predecessor, and stood up to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
When he took over, he was expected to govern in the shadow and at the behest of his predecessor and mentor: Nazarbayev, who had ruled since 1991.
Nazarbayev retained the title of “Elbasy” – “head of the nation” in the Kazakh language.
This gave him huge influence over politics and his clan retained control over the energy-rich country’s economy.
‘Shoot to kill’
For two-and-a-half years, Tokayev – a steady hand known for lacking charisma – played the role of a loyal successor. That changed in January.
Protests broke out across the vast country that turned into violent unrest and centred on Kazakhstan’s economic centre, Almaty.
Tokayev showed a ruthless side, ordering law enforcement to “shoot to kill” demonstrators. He also cut off communication with the outside world and called on Moscow to send troops to help.
The deployment of Moscow-led “peacekeeping” forces suppressed the uprising, which some observers believed might have brought about Tokayev’s fall. The chaos ended with 238 dead in nine days.
Determined to cement his authority, Tokayev promptly told Putin that Russian soldiers must leave. And in a surprise move, he broke with his mentor Nazarbayev, purging his family from positions of authority and promising a “new and just Kazakhstan”.
The octogenarian ex-leader was deprived of his powers, some relatives were imprisoned, and he was forced to publicly swear allegiance to Tokayev.
In the process, the new leader announced reforms, a constitutional referendum, and introduced single presidential terms of seven years, triggering an early ballot on November 20.
In a final nail driven into the coffin of the Nazarbayev era, the capital city – renamed in the dictator’s honour in 2019 – regained its name of Astana in September this year.
Despite Tokayev purging Nazarbayev, the overhaul represents the liberalisation of an authoritarian state.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has reawakened Kazakh concerns that Moscow may have ambitions on the north of the country, home to about three million ethnic Russians.
Kazakhstan and Russia share a 7,500km-long (about 4,660 miles) border.
Tokayev publicly clashed with Putin on a visit to St Petersburg in June, criticising Moscow’s move to recognise Ukrainian separatist regions that it has since claimed to have annexed.
Sitting next to the Kremlin chief, Tokayev said recognising separatist authorities around the world would “lead to chaos”.
Four months later, when Putin announced the mobilisation of tens of thousands of reservists, Tokayev opened the borders and welcomed a flood of Russians fleeing the army.
He called on Kazakhs to “take care of them and ensure their security”.