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Kazakhstan seen tilting to China after president's landslide win


Nov 4, 2011

Kazakhstan seen tilting to China after president's landslide win

Tokayev shifts country away from predecessor Nazarbayev and Moscow

Kazakhstani election officials count ballots in Almaty on Nov. 20. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won the snap vote by a landslide. © Reuters
Nikkei staff writersNovember 22, 2022 04:38 JST

Kazakhstan is expected to bolster ties with China and Western powers after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won Sunday's snap election in a landslide, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine erodes Moscow's clout over former Soviet states in Central Asia.

Tokayev beat five other candidates as he received 81.3% of the votes, according to preliminary results announced Monday by the country's election commission. He is now set to remain in office until 2029.
Under Tokayev's continued leadership, Kazakhstan is expected to leverage its ample supply of oil and grains to forge stronger ties with China, the U.S. and Europe as Russia's influence wanes.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to Tokayev on Monday, hailing the countries' 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties as a new starting point for a "permanent comprehensive strategic partnership."

Opinion polls showed growing support for Tokayev heading into the election, thanks partly to his break from former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Tokayev pledged to correct past mistakes and resolve accumulated problems -- a veiled criticism of his predecessor, who served as president for nearly three decades after Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991 and is considered the country's founding father.

The latest election strengthens Tokayev's mandate to pursue a new path for Kazakhstan, both on the international stage and at home.

Tokayev requested support from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance of ex-Soviet states, when anti-government protests erupted in Kazakhstan in January. But he began to distance himself from Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February.

Other Central Asian states similarly have drawn away from Moscow. The United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 14 adopted a resolution calling on Russia to pay reparations to Ukraine. While Russia and China voted against it, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and several of their neighbors abstained.

China in particular seeks to bolster its clout in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is a key part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, as well as a key source of oil and other commodities.

Xi met with Tokayev in Kazakhstan during September. The Chinese leader also visited Uzbekistan for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional framework that includes Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, demonstrating his interest in Central Asia.


Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev during a visit to China in September 2019. © Pool photo/Reuters

The world is watching to see how Kazakhstan will move forward with democratic reform now that Tokayev has worn a second term.

The Kazakhstani protests in January were triggered by soaring fuel prices. But they also were driven partly by public dissatisfaction with the Nazarbayev family and its aides' continued influence. Even after ceding the presidential office in 2019 to his chosen successor Tokayev, Nazarbayev remained a key political player as chairman of the Security Council.

Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from the council following the January protests. Nazarbayev in a video message that month said he had been retired from the political arena.

Tokayev has continued to curb Nazarbayev's influence. A constitutional amendment in June removed language designating Nazarbayev as elbasy, or "leader of the nation." The relatives of presidents were blocked from holding key governmental offices.

Tokayev in September restored the name of the capital city -- which had been renamed Nur-Sultan after Nazarbayev three years ago -- back to Astana. He banned reelection of presidents starting after his upcoming term. In his campaign, he called for an end to state monopolies and for a fairer society, signaling a shift from Soviet-style political and economic systems.

Still, Kazakhstani leaders have a history of interpreting or amending the constitution to suit their interests. With Tokayev retaining power for another seven years, there is much interest in whether Kazakhstan will continue its transition toward a more democratic system.

On Sunday, Tokayev said he will announce a date for the next parliamentary election at the end of 2022.


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