On June 9, Kazakhstan held its first elections after the planned transfer of presidential power from Nursultan Nazarbayev to Kasym-Jomart Tokayev. According to Tokayev, the transfer process has been discussed internally over the past three years.
A lack of respect for freedom of assembly has been a long-standing issue in Kazakhstan, where authorities have sought to curb the constitutional right to public protest through complex administrative procedures, which in practice bar opposition activist from organizing public protests.
Events on election day and in the following days confirm that a number of recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Mr. Maina Kiai, during his visit to the country in 2015 have remained largely ignored by Kazakh authorities.
Crack down on protesters
While elections in Kazakhstan have never been deemed free or fair by international observers from OSCE/ODIHR, the June 9 elections raised particular concern as authorities cracked down on hundreds of peaceful protesters.
“Hundreds of citizens have been detained while peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
“Each new arrest merely exacerbates the situation. Authorities should consider what sort of Kazakhstan they want to see in the future. A forward-looking, modern democracy, or a country still caught up in authoritarian practices of the past.”
70% popular vote
According to official sources, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the candidate running for the ruling party “Nur-Otan”, received 70,96% of the popular vote.As speaker of the Senate, Tokayev ascended to the presidency in March, when former president Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his immediate resignation. The June 9 elections saw him formally elected president. His inauguration is set for June 12.
Apart from Tokayev, six other candidates were running, most notably opposition candidate Amirjan Kosanov, who received some 16% of the vote. Others were, Daniya Yespayeva (5.05%), Toleutai Rakhimbekov (3.04%), Amangeldy Taspikhov (1.98%), Jambyl Ahmetbekov (1.82) and Sadybek Tugel (0.92%). According to election authorities, the voter turnout was 77,54%.
Each new arrest merely exacerbates the situation. Authorities should consider what sort of Kazakhstan they want to see in the future
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee viewed several videos documenting, and received numerous credible reports about, irregularities such as ballot stuffing and individuals voting several times. OSCE/ODIHR also observed “ballot box stuffing, group voting and series of identical signatures on voter lists” and “deliberate falsification”.
NHC staff detained
From around noon on election day, crowds counting hundreds gathered in cities across Kazakhstan, most notably in Almaty and Nur-Sultan, to protest what they viewed as an unfair election. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was present in Almaty and documented how regular police along with various other law-enforcement agencies rounded up and detained hundreds of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights defenders and bystanders. Around 12:30 pm, law-enforcement personnel briefly detained the NHC Representative in Central Asia, Marius Fossum, as he was observing the mass detentions. He was shortly released.
Several other journalists and human rights defenders were also detained, including journalist Chris Rickleton who was left with a black eye after a rough detention. In all, law enforcement detained hundreds of peaceful protesters across Kazakhstan on June 9. Authorities later said the protests were unsanctioned and intended to discredit the presidential elections.
On the day following the election, on June 10, protests continued in Kazakhstan with at least 200 hundred detained in Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Denouncing the official election results, popular poet and folk singer Rinat Zayitov called for protests at 18:00 on June 10, following which law-enforcement personnel detained him. After his detention an unknown number of protesters took to the streets throughout the evening and into the night. Between midnight and 02.00 am, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee observed a heavy law-enforcement presence on the outskirts of town including police road blocks on Tole Bi Street near Sayran.
Kasym-Jomart Tokayev’s inauguration takes place on June 12. Tokayev has reported on Twitter that he has received congratulations from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Blockage of social media and messengers such as WhatsApp, as well as complete internet shut-down in areas of protest, are currently widely reported from around the country.