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
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
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