ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan is voting in snap parliamentary elections on Sunday that are widely expected to strengthen President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s grip on power and complete the reshuffle of the ruling elite that began after he completely lost power last year assumed leadership.
A stronger mandate will help Tokayev navigate the regional turmoil caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent damage to trade, investment and supply chains in the former Soviet Union.
Although he formally became president three years ago, Tokayev, 69, remained in the shadow of his predecessor and former patron Nursultan Nazarbayev until January 2022, when the two fell apart amid a coup attempt and violent unrest.
Tokayev sidelined Nazarbayev after quelling political unrest in the oil-rich Central Asian country and removing several of his associates from senior public sector positions, some of whom were later accused of corruption.
While Tokayev has reshuffled the government, the lower house of parliament — elected when Nazarbayev still had sweeping powers and led the ruling Nur Otan party — was not due to be elected until 2026, and the president called an emergency vote.
Unlike Nazarbayev, Tokayev has opted not to lead the ruling party – now renamed Amanat – but polls show it is likely to retain a comfortable majority and be at the core of its rank and file in the legislature, especially in its absence of strong opposition parties on the ballot.
However, for the first time in nearly two decades, several opposition members are running as independents, a move that could allow some government critics to win a limited number of seats.
Tokayev has said the vote will allow him to begin implementing his plan to reform the country and ensure a fairer distribution of its oil wealth.
The completion of the political transition is also likely to make Tokayev stronger in foreign policy. Despite Moscow’s support during the 2022 unrest, it has refused to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or recognize the annexation of some Ukrainian territories.
At the same time, Astana is trying to maintain good relations both with Moscow, its neighbor and important trading partner, and with the West, which is trying to isolate Russia.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)