Kazakhstan”s powerful ruling Nour Otan party has secured a sweeping victory in the country’s parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to exit polls.
The first results suggested it had secured nearly 72 per cent of the vote and is expected to maintain, or even increase, its dominant position in parliament.
Five parties contested the election, but all are considered friendly to the government, meaning the victory for Nour Otan was largely expected.
The party has 800,000 members in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic four times the size of France but with a population of just under 19 million.
Sunday’s election was boycotted by Kazakhstan’s opposition.
The National Social Democratic Party (NSDP), which claims to be in opposition despite critics questioning its position, had announced in November that it would not stand for election as a sign of “protest”.
More than 30 demonstrators were arrested during protests criticising the vote in the country’s biggest city Almaty and in the capital, Nur-Sultan.
Arystangani Zapparov, the deputy interior minister, said that all those detained had been released without charges late on Sunday.
In the country’s largest city, Almaty, where participation was the lowest according to the authorities, police surrounded two groups of several dozen activists hostile to the government, who were trying to demonstrate against the election, for several hours, a journalist from AFP observed.
“Dozens of our members have been arrested,” said activist Janbolat Mamay, who was held by one of these cords in freezing temperatures. “Many of us had to go to the toilet here in the street”.
In the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana before it was renamed in honour of the former president Nourjan, a 50-year-old voter, stressed that “many Kazakhs have stopped believing in progress”.
No election in the country has ever been recognised as honest by Western observers.
This election was the first under the country’s new president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
But Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former president who led Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, remains a powerful figure.
He resigned as president last year but is still head of the influential National Security Council.