Your New President

Post image for Your New President

by Joshua Foust on 4/4/2011 · 7 comments

Hey guys, we have a new President in Kazakhstan!

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has secured a new five-year term in office in a weekend election that has been sharply criticized by international monitors.

The Central Election Commission said today that provisional figures show the 70-year-old Nazarbaev taking 95.5 percent of the vote in a poll that drew turnout of nearly 90 percent.

Nazarbayev told supporters that the wide margin of his victory proves his country is “unified — all the nationalities, peoples, and religions of Kazakhstan.”

Oh, well, nevermind. Here’s what’s great about President Nazarbayev’s 95.5% victory: even Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov won his sham election by a far smaller margin—something like 89% of the vote. So Nazarbayev, apparently high off chairing the OSCE, felt it necessary to dispense with all pretensions of democracy.

So there’s no doubt the elections for Kazakhstan’s president were a total sham. But what kind of a sham is a surprisingly interesting question. The SCO insists the election was “free and transparent,” which isn’t automatically a lie. Given the many steps Nazarbayev’s thugs took to intimidate the opposition—so extensive that even opposition candidates said they were voting for Nazarbayev—it’s not hard to see people of Kazakhstan feeling so deeply constrained that there was no need for systemic fraud: by default, they would vote Nazarbayev.

However, OSCE monitors reported widespread ballot-stuffing, voter intimidation, and a lack of transparency. This, too, is perfectly understandable: it makes sense given the rampant thuggery Nur Otan engaged in before the vote. It’s possible reality could be a combination of the two: the SCO saw little wrong at its voting stations, and the OSCE saw truly worrying things at its monitoring sites. But more likely is the SCO really wanted to report a clean election, so it chose to report a clean election.

I missed this bit of the story when I spoke with Liam Cochrane, the host of Radio Australia’s ConnectAsia program. But even so, I think our discussion gets at some of the baseline problems both with Kazakhstan’s development as a whole and its specific problems with having a functional dictatorship.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Janis April 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

In the previous elections, he received 91.15 percent of the vote. It would be unfitting for a man who became the Leader of the Nation last June to receive less than that.

Tojik April 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I don’t get the clownery of even holding elections and having a Central Election Commission. If this ‘organ’ is appointed by the President and approved/confirmed by the parliament, wouldn’t it make the whole process a sham from the very beginning?

In Tajikistan, during the last presidential election, candidates from the opposition parties were actually campaigning for Rahmon rather than for themselves.

Jangak April 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Long Live El Jefe!

Oldschool boy April 5, 2011 at 2:46 am

“Given the many steps Nazarbayev’s thugs took to intimidate the opposition”
What do you refer to exactly?

Everybody expected Nazarbaev to win. Of course, 95% is a little too much. However, there are too many unsubstantiated speculations in your and your reference articles. First of all, I did not see any evidence that opposition was pressured. I think they simply decided not to participate, because their defeat was too obvious. Second, I have heard that people were pressured and agitated to vote, but never heard anyone being intimidated to vote for Nazarbaev. Also, you mention widespread fraud, but what it really means? Fake ballots? How many, and how many is widespread?
I am not advocating Nazarbaev, but I want whoever rights articles about Kazakhstan (or anything else) provide trustworthy information with solid facts. Otherwise, it is just like that political journalism of 90s, when somebody could write about a country without really being there and seeing what he/she writes about.

Bob April 9, 2011 at 10:32 am

I agree that more data is needed on how the political elites in Kazakhstan coerce Kazakhstanis to vote for Nazarbaev. One of the major ways is to gather state employees – such as civil servants, teachers, and police officers – and inform them that they must register for Nur Otan and vote for Nazarbaev. Of course, individuals could still vote for an “opposition” candidate, but Kazakhstanis are not dumb, and they get the message: vote for Nur Otan, support Nur Otan, make sure everyone you know votes for Nur Otan, and get ready for utopia in 2030. Or get fired.

Also, opposition journalists disappear before elections. Again, Kazakhstanis get the message. Political violence need not be physically widespread to send a message.

Alan April 12, 2011 at 12:42 am

I’d just like to point out Josh completely butchered the pronunciation of Nazarbayev’s name in that audio clip. Better double check those stress marks…

huwoniu April 14, 2011 at 10:25 pm

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