The election of a national President is always a significant moment in a country’s history. But as we have said before, when the election is to choose a successor to a leader who has been at the helm for three decades, it is a true landmark event in a nation’s history. This was the case in Kazakhstan June 9 when the country went to the polls in the first presidential election without the name of Nursultan Nazarbayev on the ballot.
We now know that the country’s decision, by a large margin, is to entrust Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s experience to guide Kazakhstan through the next stage of its journey. The official result put his winning tally at more than 70 percent of the vote, which is more than four times the share achieved by the next candidate.
This decisive result is an endorsement not just of the new President but also his decision to ask for a national show of confidence in his credentials to lead the country. After President Nazarbayev’s decision to step down in March, he could, under the Constitution, have continued as a leader until the next scheduled elections. But he decided that it was in the best long-term interests of the nation to bring elections forward so the new leader would have the clear backing of the country.
When you consider the uneasy state of the world and the political, social and economic challenges that all countries face, it is easy to see why President Tokayev was an attractive choice. No one has more experience both internationally and domestically than the man who has served for a decade as Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Senate.
President Tokayev brings an unrivalled track record of promoting Kazakhstan’s interests abroad. Through his work as Foreign Minister and as a diplomat who has served with distinction at the United Nations, he has earned the trust and respect of countries around the world and is ideally suited to continue building friendships and alliances.
In particular, he has championed, alongside President Nazarbayev, the cause of nuclear disarmament. As Foreign Minister, he signed both the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Central Asia on behalf of Kazakhstan. Both were important steps in the battle to rid the world of the threat of nuclear weapons.
He has also been personally involved in Kazakhstan’s efforts internationally to promote understanding between religions and to mobilise efforts to tackle extremism. As Head of the Secretariat, he has played a major role in the growth of the stature and influence of the triennial Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
In the domestic sphere, as well, President Tokayev has been an influential figure. As Chairman of the Senate, he has been a major architect of policies that have helped improve public services and transform the quality of life of Kazakhstan’s citizens. It is why the First President described him as ‘indispensable” to the country’s progress.
This weekend’s election itself is another example of this progress. In the most competitive election in Kazakhstan’s history, voters had the choice of seven candidates who had the chance to present differing visions for the country’s future during the campaign. They included the runner-up Amirzhan Kosanov, who has been a well-known opposition politician for two decades, and Daniya Yespayeva, the first woman to run for president in Kazakhstan, another important step in the country’s political development.
Turn-out at more than 77 percent was high by international standards, which showed the Kazakh electorate understood the importance of these elections.There are, of course, always lessons to be learnt. The Government will want to look at the full reports from the many international organisations invited to monitor the campaign and election to see where improvements can be made. But major efforts were made to ensure the process was free, transparent and fair.
What is already clear is that this election, which set the seal on Kazakhstan’s first democratic handover of power, will be seen as an historic moment for the country. It shows a country which is maturing and is ready for the next stage of its development under President Tokayev’s experienced leadership.