04/27/2015, 00.00
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Nazarbayev re-elected president with 97.7% of the votes

by Nina Achmatova
The Kazakh leader wins a new mandate and promises stability and prosperity. But he faces the challenge of an economy slowing under the weight of the drop in oil prices and the scenario of a succession crisis.

Moscow (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, won a new term as president, getting 97.7% of the vote in this weekend’s elections. The Central Election Commission, announced the preliminary results of the April 26 vote which also registered a record turnout of 95.2%. Nazarbayev, 74, has led the former Soviet republic since 1989; together with the Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, is in fact the last leader of the Soviet times still in place in the former Soviet space.

The final figures will be announced by May 3, as required by law, but the result was a forgone conclusion even before citizens went to the polls. In previous ballots, Nazarbayev won 98.7%, in 1991, the 91.5% in 2005 and over 95% in 2011. "It 'the first time in the history of independent Kazakhstan that voters have so clearly demonstrated their civic position and political responsibility for the future of the country", the head of the Electoral Commission Kuandyk Turgankulov claimed.

The other two challengers - largely unknown figures and considered sham rivals to legitimize the illusion of a democratic competition – did not even obtain 1.6% of the vote. The marginalized opposition, however, had no candidate. OSCE observers expressed concern on the eve of the vote, for the "institutional advantage" of the 'outgoing' president who monopolized the brief election campaign.

Former metalworker, Nazarbayev - 74 and head of the Nur Otan party that controls every aspect of the life of this nation of 18 million people - has promoted market reforms and with the help of large deposits of oil and gas and the influx of over $ 200 billion of direct investment in the country, has transformed Kazakhstan into the second largest economy of the former Soviet empire.

His critics point the finger at his repressive policies, strict media control and the constitutional amendments, made on purpose to maintain power. Many figures critical of the president have been forced to emigrate, others have been killed or died in disputed circumstances.

Former member of the Soviet Union Politburo, Nazarbayev has always declared his intention to build a nation with its own identity and economic strength, before launching democratic reforms. Speaking from Astana, after the exit pool, he reiterated the goal of wanting Kazakhstan to become one of the top 30 developed countries in the world.

The presidential elections were scheduled for 2016, but were deferred to April 26 this year, officially, "to ensure political continuity "; in fact, to consolidate power before the arrival of possible and greater economic difficulties.

The scenario looming ahead of the Kazakh leader as he enters this next mandate is, in fact, less reassuring than the past. The country is facing an economic slowdown, after a year of falling oil prices and international sanctions against Russia, its largest trading partner.

According to several Kazakh officials interviewed by the Guardian, the worsening economic situation could make Nazarbayev’s leadership less stable and complicate the process of succession.

A possibility that also worries foreign investors. By confirming his power through a popular vote, the "leader of the nation" should be able to handle the economic situation in the coming years with more tranquility, without the risk of having to face elections in a more uncertain situation.

As written by the Russian magazine Profil, "the opening of a political struggle for the legacy of Nazarbayev is virtually inevitable", although it is not excluded that the president at a certain point appoints an heir: currently the most likely candidate seems to be the 49 year old prime minister Karim Masimov. If the conflict for the new Kazakhstan without Nazarbayev two different factions were to establish themselves - one that focuses on relations with the US and EU, the other determined to remain part of Russia - a "phase of instability similar to that experienced by Ukraine" may open warns Profil. Especially as an area of ​​potential territorial dispute with Moscow already exists: it is the northern part of the country, with areas where the majority of the population is Russian.

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