On Sunday, April 26, Nursultan Nazarbayev was reelected as president of Kazakhstan with 97.7 percent of the vote and a voter turnout of 95.22 percent. At first glance, this number is astonishingly high for an elected official, especially one who has been in office for more than twenty-five years. Suspicion of the reliability and credibility of these figures is certainly justified. But a complete negation of the extent to which the results reflect the will of the Kazakhstani population is exaggerated.
No stranger to Kazakhstan, I spent almost a year in Almaty, working as a shoe trader in a bazaar alongside migrant workers from Tajikistan. I have no illusions about the quality of life for ordinary citizens. Not every person in Kazakhstan supports Nazarbayev and not everyone has benefited from the countryâ€™s development since 1991. There are always winners and losers in periods of transition.
One of 170 international journalists covering the elections, I met with members of the Central Electoral Commission, International Observers, government ministers, a leading official in the Nur Otan Party, and even got to ask Nazarbayev a question at the post-election press conference.
These experiences have given me some insights into the internal dynamics shaping the Kazakhstani electorate and influencing the countryâ€™s political development. Kazakhstanâ€™s internal politics are evolving. Nazarbayevâ€™s reelection was driven by votersâ€™ desire for stability and security, with the tacit understanding that Kazakhstan is at a difficult stage of its development, and that in the course of his next term the president must implement a comprehensive reform agenda.
Conservative Political Culture
There are several factors that explain the Nazarbayevâ€™s reelection.
First, the president is genuinely popular. For many Kazakhstanis, life in general has improved since independence: Per capita GDP rose from $1, 647 in 1991 to $13, 172 in 2013, qualifying Kazakhstan as a middle-income country alongside Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Kazakhstan was chairman of the OSCE in 2011 and has hosted major international sporting events, such as the Asian Winter Games. Nazarbayev constructed a new capital city, Astana, and many Kazakhstanis are proud of the burgeoning political profile of their young country. Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstanis are certain about the future security of their country.