International monitors criticise vote as Nursultan Nazarbayev, 74, wins another term after 26 years as leader of Kazakhstan.
The hardline leader of Kazakhstan apologised on Monday for winning its presidential election with 97.7 per cent of the vote as international monitors condemned the poll as unfair.
“I’m sorry that for super-democratic states these figures are unacceptable, but there was nothing I could do,” said Nursultan Nazarbayev, 74, after a victory rally in the capital, Astana. “If I had interfered it would have been undemocratic, right?”
Observers have noted that opposition politicians have been prosecuted and free media shut down under Mr Nazarbayev’s seemingly never-ending rule. He came to power in 1989 and has been Kazakhstan’s leader ever since.
A little-known member of the country’s Communist party and a loyal former regional governor were the only candidates to stand in Sunday’s election against the president, a shepherd’s son and former steelworker.
In a report on the vote, monitors from the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe said: “The incumbent and his political party dominate politics, and there is a lack of a credible opposition in the country.
“Voters were not offered a genuine choice between political alternatives. There were significant restrictions to the freedom of expression, as well as to the media environment.”
Mr Nazarbayev signed off on legislation in 2007 which made Kazakhstan’s two-term limit on the presidency not applicable to him.
A law introduced three years later gave him the title “Leader of the Nation”, granting lifetime membership of the country’s Constitutional and Security Councils, allowing him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulating that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.
Mr Nazarbayev will be pushing 80 by the time his new term in office finishes and there is no clear contender to succeed him.
Kazakhstan is a huge energy-rich state that is the largest economy in the former Soviet Union after Russia.
The country is more stable than neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, which has suffered from inter-ethnic violence, richer than Tajikistan and less repressive than Uzbekistan.
Of Central Asia’s leaders, perhaps the most unusual is Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, president of Turkmenistan. On Sunday he acquired a new honorific title – the “People’s Horse Breeder”.
By Tom Parfitt, Moscow