The results of the April 26 presidential election in Kazakhstan offer a good illustration of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s aversion to what he described last month as “forced democracy.” He won reelection with almost 98 percent of the vote.
The election victory for the 74-year-old Nazarbayev, who in addition to the presidency also holds the official title Leader of the Nation, came on a record turnout of 95.22 percent, according to preliminary results released by the Central Electoral Commission the morning after the vote.
“Kazakhstan has demonstrated its high political culture and democracy to the international community,” Nazarbayev told supporters during the evening of the election.
At a subsequent news conference, the president professed to be embarrassed by the Soviet-like level of voter support for his reelection. “I apologize that for super-democratic states such figures are unacceptable: 95 percent participation and more than 97 percent [of ballots cast for him]. But I could do nothing. If I had interfered, I would have been undemocratic,” said Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan since before the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Nazarbayev trounced two little-known challengers – Turgun Syzdykov of the government-loyal Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, who received 1.6 percent of the vote, and Abelgazi Kusainov, a member of the ruling party led by Nazarbayev, Nur Otan, who trailed with 0.7 percent.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement released on April 27 that a “lack of genuine opposition limited voter choice.”
“The incumbent and his political party dominate politics, and there is a lack of a credible opposition in the country,” Cornelia Jonker, the head of the OSCE mission, stated. There were also “significant restrictions” on freedom of expression and the media environment.
Nazarbayev has regularly cautioned that the democratization process in Kazakhstan needs to be carefully managed in order to preserve domestic stability. Nazarbayev has defended Kazakhstan’s democratic record in the past: once remarking that in terms of democracy, “our glass is half or three-quarters full, and we have to fill it up.”