On March 19, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan since 1991, resigned from office. In line with the Constitution, the Senate Speaker, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, assumed the role of acting president. On April 9, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for an early presidential election to be held on 9 June.

Mr Nazarbayev retains the title of First President and remains leader of the ruling Nur Otan party as well as chairperson of the Security Council for life.

The elections were held in a political environment dominated by the ruling political party Nur Otan, which, after the early 2016 parliamentary elections, holds 84 of the 98 directly-elected seats in the lower chamber of parliament (Mazhilis). An additional nine seats are indirectly elected by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, an advisory body appointed by the president.

Following the announcement of early elections, several peaceful protests were held in major cities with demonstrators calling for the release of political prisoners and a boycott of the elections. The authorities declared the meetings illegal, as the permission to organize them had not been requested; dozens of people have been arrested as a result.

Seven political parties are registered in Kazakhstan, however, the ability of political parties to organize is heavily restricted by the Law on Political Parties.

The president is elected for a five-year term by an absolute majority in a single national electoral district. If no candidate receives above 50 percent of the votes cast, a second round between the two candidates with the highest number of votes is held within two months. The date of this vote is set by the CEC. In the second round, the candidate who receives the higher number of votes is elected.

The legal framework for presidential elections includes the Constitution and the Constitutional Law on Elections (Election Law). The CEC issues laws and regulations to clarify legal rules. The amendments to the Constitution adopted in 2017 removed the possibility for candidates to be self-nominated, introduced additional qualification requirements for candidates, and stipulated the possibility of setting additional restrictive requirements for candidates by law. This led to amendments to the Election Law made in 2017 and 2018, which introduced new requirements for the candidates, as well as changed voter registration and the structure of electoral commissions.

The nomination of candidates for the post of President of the Republic of Kazakhstan were held from April 10 to April 28, 2019, in accordance with the calendar plan of major activities for the preparation and conduct of early elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan scheduled for June 9, 2019, and approved by CEC of Kazakhstan. According to article 55-1 of the constitutional Law on Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan, Republican political parties and public associations registered in accordance with the established procedure have a right to nominate candidates.

Five out or six registered political parties announced congresses to nominate candidates. The Birlik (“Unity”) party refused to take part in the presidential elections in connection, as follows from their statement, “with the lack of time to prepare for a full party congress.”

The nomination of candidates concluded at 18 PM on April 28. All in all, 9 candidates filed documents to CEC for registration.

To be registered, presidential candidates had to win the support of at least 118,140 voters, pay the election deposit of 2 million 125 thousand tenge (about $5,600),  pass the state language (Kazakh) exam and submit a certificate of good health. Completed signature sheets were submitted to the respective TECs, which verified the authenticity of signatures with the help of employees of passport services within the 10-day period established by the law.

Of nine applicants for the registration, Talgat Yergaliyev nominated by the “Union of Builders of Kazakhstan” withdrew his candidacy, and as for Zhumatai Aliyev nominated by the Public Association “Demography of the population”, it was decided that he does not fully know the state (Kazakh) language.

In total, the CEC of Kazakhstan registered seven presidential candidates for the elections, listing them in the ballot alphabetically:

1. Zhambyl Akhmetbekov – Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan;

2. Daniya Espaeva – Ak Zhol Democratic Party;

3. Amirzhan Kosanov  – Fate of the Nation movement;

4. Toleutay Rakhimbekov – People’s Democratic Patriotic Party “Auyl”;

5. Amangeldy Taspikhov – Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan;

6. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – The Nur Otan party;

7. Sadybek Tugel – Public association “Uly Dala Kyrandary”.

In total, 11, 947, 995 people were included in the electoral rolls to participate in the elections. On June 9, some 10,000 polling stations were opened in the country and abroad, in diplomatic and consular offices.

From May 24 to June 8, voters who will be away from their registered residence on election day were issued an Absentee Voting Certificate (AVC), which allows them to vote in any polling station.

The election campaign started on May 11 and lasted till the end of June 7. It was prohibited to campaign the day before the vote, on June 8, during the so-called «electoral science» day.

The most significant event of the election campaign was the debate of the presidential candidates of the Republic of Kazakhstan and their representatives organized by the CEC of Kazakhstan and held on May 29, 2019, in the capital Nur-Sultan. The debate was held live on the Khabar TV channel. The debate, which generated great interest among voters, were broadcast live, and their conduct was widely covered by the print and Internet media of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Candidates’ representatives, public organizations, and more than 1,000 international observers monitored the elections. Observers were sent by 9 international organizations and 41 states; the most numerous missions included the CIS – 432 observers and the OSCE – 299 observers.

The voting took place on June 9 from 7 AM to 8 PM local time. According to the CEC of Kazakhstan, there were no significant violations that affected the results of the expression of citizens’ will.

Already on June 10, the CEC summed up the results of the vote and announced the outcome of the elections. On June 12, the inauguration of the President-elect of the Republic of Kazakhstan took place.

According to official data of the CEC of Kazakhstan, 77.5% of voters from the number included in the lists took part in the vote, that is more than 9 million people.

The candidates achieved the following results:

1. Zhambyl Akhmetbekov – 1,82%;

2. Daniya Espaeva – 5,05%;

3. Amirzhan Kosanov  – 16,23%;

4. Toleutay Rakhimbekov – 3,04%;

5. Amangeldy Taspikhov – 1,98%;

6. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev – 70,96%;

7. Sadybek Tugel – 0,92%.

Official data on the results of elections provide information about the outcome of voting only in relation to regions and cities of national importance. However, even at this level, there is a tangible difference in candidate support.

The greatest regional differences in the level of support are observed among the leading candidates who gained the most votes – Mr Kosanov and Mr Tokayev.

The level of support of Mr Kosanov in Mangystau region was 32.73%, whereas in Almaty he gained 8.57% of the vote. Mr Tokayev was supported by 77.4% of the electorate in the Almaty region, and 55.52% in the Mangystau region. The 20% range in levels of support indicates a noticeable divergence of voters’ political views in different parts of the country. Besides, the presented data on voting in cities of national importance makes it possible to reach general conclusions about the trend to support different candidates depending on where the voter lives – in a large city or not.

Out of the four regions that demonstrated the least amount of support for President-elect Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, three are cities of national importance. The capital of the country, Nur-Sultan with the largest number of civil servants – the most obvious electorate of the current government – showed the lowest support of the three cities of republican significance – 59.19%, while Almaty – 66.73% and Shymkent – 67.11%. This seems to be a major problem for the President, in case of controlled protests on the model of Kyiv in 2013, when the lukewarm support of Viktor Yanukovych in the capital became one of the decisive factors for his overthrow.

Apart from the diverging votes for the candidate from the ruling party, the results of the main opposition candidate Amirzhan Kosanov in the regions of the country also vary considerably. He achieved the best results in Mangystau –  32.73%, Atyrau – 22.69%, and West Kazakhstan – 20.85% regions. At the same time, support for Mr Kosanov widely differs in the cities of Republican significance – in Nur-Sultan and Shymkent he was supported by 19.57% and 18.69% of voters respectively, while in Almaty only by 8.57% – the worst result of all regions of the country.

Significant regional differences in the support of candidates that emerged during these elections can be attributed to the manifestations of the traditional social organization of the Kazakh society, namely, to the division of the Kazakh people into three zhuzes. Given the territorial division of zhuzes’ representatives, the reason for the increased support for Mr Kosanov by representatives of the Junior zhuz in Mangystau, Atyrau, and West Kazakhstan regions becomes clear. These are the areas inhabited by this division of the Kazakh people. Nevertheless, some decrease in his results as we move to the North from Mangystau to West Kazakhstan region was also to be expected, which is caused by a larger share of the Russian population and some Russification of the Kazakhs closer to the Russian border.

At the same time, the results of the candidate from the incumbent government, representative of the Senior zhuz Kassym-Jomart Tokayev do not indicate such a clear dependence on the belonging of this or that region to the territory of the corresponding zhuz. Having received the highest percentage of votes in the Almaty region – 77.4%, he gained 75.32% in the Kyzylorda region, which is largely a part of the Middle zhuz territories. In addition, he received considerable support – higher than the national average – in the regions located in the territory inhabited by all three zhuzes – West Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Turkestan, Akmola, North Kazakhstan, and Kostanay regions. Apart from the cities of Republican significance, where Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was rather unsuccessful, his support tends to increase in the southernmost and northernmost border regions. This phenomenon is likely to have been caused by the votes of representatives of ethnic minorities, supporting the current government in order to maintain stability.

On the day of the vote and on the following day, protests organized by activists considering the elections unjust and unfair were held in the capital of the country, Nur-Sultan, and other major cities. The actions were illegal and were promptly suppressed by law enforcement officers. According to official data, more than 500 people were detained during the actions, there were clashes between protesters and police. The gravity of the clashes can be measured by the number of victims among police officers published on June 18. According to the MIA head, more than 300 police officers were injured, six of them are still in hospital, a week after the rallies. This indicates the severity of the clashes and the degree of aggression and protest moods in the Kazakh society.

The existence of such (protest-aggressive) sentiments in society can be linked with the surprising, by world standards, efficiency, almost haste in summing-up of the election results and inaugurating the President-elect.

 The CEC announced the final results of the election on June 10, 2019, a day after the vote. Given the fact that the last polling stations abroad were closed 9 hours later than in Kazakhstan due to the time difference. Thus, the vote count, preparation and handover of protocols to higher commissions, their synthesis, and drawing of the final conclusions have been carried out at a truly record pace.

Moreover, such a rapid tabulation process and prompt inauguration, in fact, deprived observers, representatives of civil society and candidates to appeal the results of the vote, summarize information on violations and bring the matter to law enforcement and judicial bodies.

International observers generally gave a positive assessment of the conduct of the vote, but the OSCE/ODIHR mission criticized the quality of counting and tabulation processes and described the campaign conditions for the candidates as unequal. The CIS mission did not mention the political situation in the country in its report, noting the high quality of the organization of the voting process at polling stations and attention to voters with special needs.

An important point of the Kazakhstan elections is the lack of transparency and complete confidentiality of the voting results at the polling stations. Official data published by the CEC only contain the summary of information on regions, while data on polling stations, settlements, districts, etc. are not made public, which reduces confidence in the electoral system and in the results presented.

To confirm this fact, we can cite figures of observers from public organizations and journalists who consolidated data of polling station protocols (observers were freely provided with copies).

The most comprehensive data have been collected in the largest cities because it is there that socially active people, young people, students who constitute the bulk of civil society activists are concentrated.

Thus, in the city of Almaty activists processed 208 protocols of precinct commissions out of 544 created in the city, which amounted to 38% of the total number of polling stations. At the polling stations, the protocols of which were processed,  candidate Amirzhan Kosanov won 72,316 votes. While, according to the CEC data, fixed by the decision on the election results, Mr Kosanov gained 50,366 votes across the whole Almaty region. This controversy discovered by civil activists calls into question the official results of the elections published by the CEC of Kazakhstan.

Since the Kazakh Law on Elections as well as world’s electoral practice contain no examples of casting a negative number of votes for the candidate, based on the activists’ data we can assume that the final data presented by the CEC of Kazakhstan either distorted the results of the vote count at polling stations, or are not based on the voting of citizens at all. Moreover, the results obtained during the independent calculation of data from the protocols of precinct commissions in Almaty are substantially different from the CEC data. According to 38% of the protocols, the turnout was 46.77% with Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gaining 49.29% of the vote.

If the data of public organizations at least partly reflect the real state of affairs, it can be said that the current government is supported by less than 25% of the total population. This creates a sense of danger in the ruling circles which can explain the strong measures taken against the protesters, the speed of tabulation processes – the results were not summed up, they just voiced pre-prepared “results” of the elections under the 70/70 scheme, and held the inauguration as quickly as possible so that possible discussions about the outcome of the elections would be meaningless.

Based on the data of public observers, the following conclusions can be drawn from the elections:

1.    The popularity and support of the incumbent government are much lower than the figures voiced.

2.    There is a great demand for nationalist ideas and renewal of elites in Kazakhstan society.

3.    Dissatisfaction with the current government actually didn’t reach the level of mass protests.

4.    Law enforcement agencies and the system of state bodies remain loyal and consolidated and act professionally.

5.    In their attempt to conceal information and disseminate false data, the current authorities are faced with the lack of qualified staff as the principle of “loyalty above professionalism” has begun to bear fruit.

In general, the elections can be considered successful for the ruling Kazakh elite from the perspective of a successful power transition project. The results of the elections became an indicator, showing the real state of affairs in the political sphere of Kazakhstan and the growing trend towards nationalist sentiments. It must be admitted that this process is a matter of great concern for the experts.