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Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Kazakh Protesters Call For Presidential Election Boycott

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ALMATY Dozens of protesters have been detained across Kazakhstan as several hundred people took to the streets to call for the release of all political prisoners and a boycott of the upcoming presidential election.

The May 1 protests were the largest in the Central Asia country since at least 2016, and an indication of growing discontent with the political system that has been dominated by Nursultan Nazarbaev since before the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Many of the protesters were focused on the upcoming June 9 snap election, which was scheduled following Nazarbaev’s sudden resignation in March.

In Almaty, crowds on May 1 gathered in Central Park and began to march through Kazakhstan’s largest city, shouting slogans such as “Shame,” “Boycott,” “Wake up Kazakhs,” and “Freedom for political prisoners.”

The demonstrators were stopped by police as they approached Pushkin Street and dozens of participants were detained.

Protesters were arrested during similar, unsanctioned rallies in the capital, Nur-Sultan, and the central city of Qaraghandy.

Protests were also held in Aqtobe in the north and Shymkent to the south. No arrests have been immediately reported there.

In Nur-Sultan, demonstrators rallied near the Astana Concert Hall and marched toward the local administration building, shouting slogans including “People are tired” and “down with the government.”

Nazarbaev, 78, still heads the ruling Nur Otan party, which on April 23 nominated interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as its candidate in the early presidential election.

Toqaev is almost certain to win the vote in the tightly controlled country.

The only registered political party that casts itself as an opponent of the government has said that it will boycott the vote, suggesting that participating would make it a puppet of the state.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who has tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights, and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.

No vote held in the Central Asian country since 1991 has been deemed democratic by international observers.

Nazarbaev’s surprise resignation caught many observers off-guard. However, the fact he continues to lead the ruling party and will also keep his lifetime post as chairman of the influential Security Council, has led many experts to conclude that the resignation was a legal sleight-of-hand aimed at staying in power further.

Additionally, his daughter, Darigha, who has long been an influential presidential adviser, was appointed to a powerful position as head of the Senate.

Two Kazakh activists, Asiya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov, were arrested on April 21 and later sentenced to 15 days in jail after they unfurled a banner during a marathon in Almaty calling for a fair election.

A group of people was detained in Nur-Sultan on April 28 after they rallied to support the two activists.

And on April 29, another activist was sentenced to five days in jail after hanging a banner that read “The only source of the state power is the people,” a citation from Kazakhstan’s constitution, to a bridge in the center of Almaty.

A court of appeals later replaced Roman Zakharov’s jail term with a 12,650-tenge ($33) fine.

The protests were Kazakhstan’s largest since 2016, when demonstrators took to the streets to protest a land-reform law that would have allowed foreigners to rent agricultural land for 25 years.

Many feared the move would allow Chinese investors, first and foremost, to snap up land and push out Kazakh farmers.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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