The two most important countries in Central Asia have completed their presidential elections, both held early. Uzbekistan summoned voters just after the Nowruz festivities, on March 29. Just across the border, Kazakhstan went to the polls on April 26. Both elections featured Central Asiaâ€™s strongmen, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan and Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan. Both have been leading their respective countries since independence and had no problems securing another victory this time around. Like the last few elections, there were no surprises, with the two incumbents widely expected to seize around 90 percent of the votes as soon as the elections were announced. Karimov confirmed expectations with 90.39 percent, while Nazarbayev did even better with 97.7 percent of the votes.
People in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are well attuned to political realities and did not expect surprises. They knew that Karimov and Nazarbayev would win without problem. Other candidates were mostly unknown to the wider public and some were not allowed to campaign, while others dropped out. Little attention was paid to party programs or their political vision. In fact, there was little campaigning in general. Indeed, this can be described as the season of austere elections. It was impossible to find a viable alternative or to have a conversation about the plans of opposition parties, which in some occasions pledged allegiance to the incumbent. The personality of the candidates was the most important feature for the voters, and Karimov and Nazarbayev went to the polls with a definite advantage in this respect.
Many people in Kazakhstan were convinced that Nazabayev was the best candidate. His signature Nurly Zhol program, unveiled in November 2014, and his most recent speech on March 11 can be considered his presidential program, with specific steps and a strategy for the government. In theory, even if the chances of beating Nazarbayev were miniscule, anyone over 40 and fluent in both the Russian and Kazakh languages could have run. In practice, the short time allowed for campaigning and the absence of a cohesive opposition created space for only two other candidates. Among them, only one chose to run a proper, albeit cheap, campaign. Abelgazy Kussainov, the current chairman of the government-nominated Federation of Trade Unions, had little presence in the posters around the cities next to Nazarbayevâ€™s election ads. Kussainov finished the electoral race with fewer than 1 percent of the votes. The other candidate, Turgun Syzdykov of the Communist Peopleâ€™s Party of Kazakhstan, was invisible to the public, and similarly received around 1 percent of votes cast.