June 9 presidential election set to be most competitive in Kazakhstan’s history

When the presidential elections were announced last month, analysts and experts began to actively speculate about who would run to become Kazakhstan’s head of state. As the campaign has just formally begun, we now have the answer to that question.

A total of seven candidates have been registered by the Central Elections Commission making the upcoming vote the most competitive in the 27 years of Kazakhstan’s existence as an independent state.

The candidates include Daniya Yespayeva from the Ak Zhol party. The nomination of Yespayeva is a historic moment for Kazakhstan, as she is the first ever female candidate to run for President in the country. This is a clear demonstration of the progress made by Kazakhstan in ensuring greater gender equality. Of course, Yespayeva is not the first female politician in Kazakhstan. The Senate Chairwoman as well as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Education and Science, for example, are also female, as are approximately a quarter of the members of Parliament. Nevertheless, it is genuinely inspiring to see a female candidate running for President in Kazakhstan and it should motivate other women in our country to take an active part in politics.

International political experts have also been analysing whether the upcoming election in Kazakhstan will be free and fair. As is well known, incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev promised that the election will be transparent and to the highest expected standards. This is proving to be the case so far, as demonstrated by the list of candidates. For example, Amirzhan Kossanov, whose nomination was confirmed by the Central Electoral Commission last week, has been in opposition to the government for around two decades. He now has the opportunity to deliver his message to the people of Kazakhstan as part of his election campaign.

Another illustration of Kazakhstan’s determination to ensure a free and fair election is the fact that the government has officially invited the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Commonwealth of Independent States and numerous other international organisations to observe the June 9 election, as well as many other observers. The Central Election Commission said recently that they expect more than 1,000 international observers from ten international organisations and foreign states to monitor the election. The international observers will not only monitor the procedures of the electoral process but will also meet with presidential candidates.

In their recently published report following the Needs Assessment Mission, which took place from April 16 to 18 in Kazakhstan, ODIHR noted that “representatives of state institutions stressed their intention to conduct the electoral process transparently, in adherence to international standards for democratic elections and welcomed observation by ODIHR and any potential recommendations to improve the electoral process.”

The last point on recommendations is an important one. Kazakhstan’s Constitution identifies free elections as a fundamental principle of our country. Nevertheless, Kazakhstan is a young democracy with a Soviet past, and some commentators have argued that more could have been done to ensure that previous elections reached the highest democratic standards. This is why cooperating with organisations, such as ODIHR and taking on board their recommendations is an important aspect of our country’s democratic development. By evaluating and learning from our past election experiences and collaborating with ODIHR and other observers, our country can ensure that the upcoming election will be transparent and fair.

The registration of candidates ended last week, and campaigning began on May 11.

Some voices will likely continue to suggest that more work needs to be done to develop Kazakhstan’s democratic processes.Nevertheless, Kazakhstan has undoubtedly already made substantial progress. The participation of a variety of candidates in the upcoming election, including opposition figures, as well as the country’s extensive cooperation with international election observers, certainly demonstrates this.