Nazarbayev Wins Landslide Victory in Kazakhstan
Yuri Kochetkov/European Pressphoto Agency
By ELLEN BARRY
Published: April 4, 2011
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Preliminary results show that Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, has won re-election by a colossal 95.5 percent, authorities announced on Monday, ushering in a third decade in power for the man who has led the oil-rich region since the late Soviet period.
James Hill for The New York Times
Perhaps more relevant for authorities was a reported turnout of 89.9 percent, remarkable given that Mr. Nazarbayev’s three opponents were too weak to pose any real competition and the outcome was not in doubt.
Major opposition parties refused to participate in the elections and encouraged voters to boycott the polls, but lines snaked out of voting stations starting early on Sunday morning, seemingly affirming Mr. Nazarbayev’s popularity during a season of street uprisings in other parts of the world.
The results were met triumphantly in Astana, the futuristic capital that Mr. Nazarbayev ordered built in the northern steppe. Kazakhstan boasts immense reserves of oil and gas, which have boosted per capita GDP from around $700 to more than $8,000 since the early 1990s.
“You don’t win an election on election day, but much earlier, with your deeds, with all we have done these 20 years,” Mr. Nazarbayev told members of his Nur Otan party, which holds every seat in the country’s lower house of Parliament. “This is the grade of the examination which we have passed.”
This spring’s hasty campaign season in Kazakhstan has sometimes felt like a pep rally for Mr. Nazarbayev, an effect that was heightened when one of the his three opponents acknowledged that he, too, had voted for the president .
“I am sure that the current president will be the victor, so I am giving him my vote as well,” the challenger, Mels Yeleusizov, an environmental activist, told the Interfax news service as he emerged from a polling station in the city of Almaty. He said his family was voting for Mr. Nazarbayev as well.
Mr. Nazarbayev, 70, has drawn criticism from the West for stifling dissent, and no previous election has been judged free and fair by international observers. In February, seeking to shore up his reputation as an international statesman, Mr. Nazarbayev abruptly rejected the idea of a referendum that would have granted him the presidency until 2020. The election provided an even playing field, he told reporters on Sunday.
“All candidates had equal opportunities to visit regions and had access to mass media,” Mr. Nazarbayev said on Sunday, as he emerged from the country’s National Academic Library, a grandiose new structure that is shaped like a Möbius strip. “They expressed their ideas and unveiled their messages to the people of Kazakhstan. There are some valuable thoughts that we have to keep in mind. We are open to our society.”
In Semey, a university city near the border with Siberia, students showed up in large numbers in a snowstorm on Sunday morning, and poll workers said there were already lines when they opened the doors at 7 a.m.
Tolebay K. Rakhypbekov, rector of the Semey State Medical University, said political competition would come to Kazakhstan — but only gradually.
“There is none now,” he said. “But what competition can there be against our president? We all love him.”
Lyudmila A. Lyapunova, 60, said voters were there because they risked losing their jobs or university spots if they did not show up. As a retiree, she said, she could afford to openly denounce the process, and planned to cross out every name on the ballot: an improvised version of “against all,” a traditional option that was omitted from this year’s poll.
But virtually all voters said they were casting ballots for the president. Ada G. Komanova, 76, raved over the services provided to the elderly through the Nazarbayev Fund: a health clinic, concerts, a senior center “so cozy, it’s like a fairy tale.”
Kanat, a construction worker who would not give his last name, said he had voted for Mr. Nazarbayev, even though he thought the president and his family had enriched themselves fabulously during the past two decades.
“They already have everything they need,” he said. “They can afford to think about the public.”