Kazakh strongman set for crushing poll win
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Last Updated: Monday, April 04, 2011, 01:02
Astana : Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was set on Sunday to stretch his rule into a third decade by scoring a crushing poll win whose scripted nature has raised alarm over democracy in the energy-rich state.

The authenticity of the vote was thrown into further doubt after an admission by one of the three little-known challengers that he eventually decided to cast his ballot for Nazarbayev as a sign of "respect".

The usually soft-spoken Nazarbayev unexpectedly answered his critics when voting today by telling a nationally-televised live broadcast that the government remained committed to transparency and democratic standards.

Western embassies in Astana are eyeing the vote with keen interest after social revolutions swept veteran leaders from power in other Muslim nations but Kazakh officials insist there is no parallel with their president.

An entire generation of Kazakhs grew up with the 70-year-old Nazarbayev as their leader and the former steelworker was greeted with respectful applause as he approached his ballot box with his wife.

"We are an open society and a democratic one," the president said after voting at the the National Academic Library in the ex-Soviet republic's gleaming new capital Astana -- a symbol of Nazarbayev's rule.

"All the presidential candidates had an equal opportunity to visit all the regions of our country. They had equal access to the media. They expressed their ideas, their thoughts to the Kazakh people," he added.

Opposition leaders have boycotted the snap polls and argued that the three men facing Nazarbayev have been placed in the field by the government to make the vote look legitimate. And those suspicions appeared to be confirmed by news that one of the challengers -- an environmentalist named Mels Yeleusizov -- said he "expressed my respect for the winner" by voting for Nazarbayev.

But the opposition's calls for a boycott seemed to have made little headway: official turnout was reported at 84 percent two hours before the close of polls -- a massive figure that will dwarf the last election's turnout total of 76.8.


First Published: Monday, April 04, 2011, 01:02

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