The elections in Kazakhstan have concluded and outside even the weather has warmed a little and the sun has melted some of the frozen pavements. The warmth is a slight respite before the real winter, but people are making the most of it. Wrapped and cocooned in layers, smiles and bright eyes peek from coat hoods. The frozen breath of laughter can be heard from children sledding on the hard packed snow in the playgrounds between the apartment blocks.
The televisual excitement of the previous few days has melted away too and life is back to normal. There is background chatter on social media from the usual active people with a mixture of ill-informed analysis and gossip. Misinformation abounds with the lists of candidates and the percentages of their votes appearing alongside memes and video clips of the people casting their votes. Some people openly show who they voted for, others show their children being lifted to be able to post the paper into the ballot box. All who voted seem keen to prove they voted and broadcast it. According to official figures 69% turned up to vote across the country.
Of the fifteen regions in this vast country, the highest voter turnout is in the Zhetisu Region, 81%, while the lowest is in the city of Almaty, with just 29% percent. Almaty, a former capital and major business and financial centre, had low turnout at the 2019 presidential election as well.
In Astana, the country’s capital and centre for the Akmola region, where the majority of the world’s press have been based, the turnout is reported to be 79%. Many people, however, when asked said they had not voted. One of those who said they did vote, an older woman who was out carrying her grandchild, said she had voted because ‘it is important for this generation!” waving the cradled child like a doll. Other young people asked “What’s the point ?” but would not reveal what they really meant. A group of young women keen to practise their English were happy to talk – two of them had voted but the other two had not. Aigerim, one of the women who had voted, said “It’s not just a right but a responsibility to make sure your voice is heard”. When one of her friends asked who she had voted for she was less forthcoming. But they all agreed that it had been good to see female candidates and they believed that at the next election a woman would win! “We need stability at this time,’’ said Gaughar, the other of the women who had voted.
This attitude about ‘the next time’ became a common theme in conversation. One of the candidates posted that she was pleased to have been part of the process and that, although she had not won, she was being encouraged to continue in politics and stand again – apparently by senior figures in the current administration. But that opportunity will be seven years away and the world may be a very different place by then. It is back to normal, but the challenges that lie ahead in this region need to be met by the new administration.
You might be wondering who won this election. The current president with 81% of the vote.
“It is right he is back in Akorda (the presidential palace) so that he can solve the current problems and lead us forward for the next few years,” Gaughar added as they shuffled off chatting and filling the frozen air with their voices.
There is a real sense of optimism that Kazakhstan has a bright future, in many people’s eyes an important future on the world stage too and, although the expected change voiced by many before the election did not materialise, maybe Gauhar is right stability is what is needed now. We will see what happens ‘next time’!
by Gareth Stamp
Chairman of the Eurasian Creative Guild (London)