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Kazakh Lawmakers Vote Mamin Back In As PM After Elections Deemed 'Not Competitive'

KAZAKHSTAN -- Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin applauds during a digital economy forum attended by officials representing the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Almaty, January 31, 2020
KAZAKHSTAN -- Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin applauds during a digital economy forum attended by officials representing the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in Almaty, January 31, 2020

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhstan's newly elected parliament has voted to keep Prime Minister Asqar Mamin in the post following the recent elections as the country looks for continuity to attract foreign investment into its oil, gas, and mining sectors.

During its first session since the elections on January 10, deputies in parliament's lower chamber, the Mazhilis, voted 78 to zero with 21 abstentions on January 15 in favor of Mamin. He had resigned, as dictated by law, to allow the new parliament to take power.

He had been prime minister since February 2019 before stepping down.

Despite international observers describing the vote as "not competitive" and devoid of "genuine political alternatives to choose from" President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev said in an address to the legislature that the polls "opened a new page in the development of our nation."

"This important event once again proved our statehood's stability. Kazakhstan performed its society's political culture and civil achievements," Toqaev said.

International election observers have characterized past elections in Kazakhstan as being neither free nor fair, citing electoral fraud, repression of opposition candidates, and restrictions on a free press.

Arrested Protesters And No Opposition Candidates: Elections, Kazakh-Style
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After the exclusion of many opposition groups that applied to get on the ballot and a boycott by another, the balloting left the same three parties in parliament as after the previous elections, led by the ruling Nur Otan with over 71 percent.

In Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, the leader of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party, Zhanbolat Mamai, held a single-person protest on January 15, calling for the "immediate dissolution of the parliament."

Zhanbolat Mamai demonstrates in Almaty on January 15.
Zhanbolat Mamai demonstrates in Almaty on January 15.

"Members of so-called new parliament should understand that they illegally obtained their seats. Nobody elected them.... I consider that they usurped power via rigging the elections. Therefore, all the laws, decisions made by them and words said by them are illegal," Mamai said.

It was the Central Asian nation of around 18 million people's first parliamentary elections since the resignation in early 2019 of longtime President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who still holds considerable power despite handpicking Toqaev as his successor.

Despite having stepped down, Nazarbaev maintains vast influence over the country's politics. He is the head of the Nur Otan party, as well as the powerful Security Council and enjoys almost limitless powers and immunity as "elbasy" -- leader of the nation.

The lack of competition in the election dashed the hopes of the country's Western partners, who had hoped for deep political reforms.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) issued a statement on January 15 criticizing the Kazakh authorities for preventing journalists from covering the parliamentary elections, citing several such cases.

"The obstruction of media coverage of the elections casts doubt on the tentative transition towards freedom of expression in Kazakhstan and the credibility of President [Toqaev's] reformist discourse," the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, Jeanne Cavelier said, urging the authorities to investigate all cases of violations of journalists' rights registered during the elections.

According to the official results, Nur Otan secure a majority in Mazhilis with 76 of 107 seats. Two other parties, Aq Zhol (Bright Path) and the People's Party (formerly the Communist People’s Party) widely seen as pro-government parties won 12 and 10 seats respectively.

The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, an advisory body controlled by Nazarbaev, elected nine members to the Mazhilis as outlined by election legislation.

The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), which describes itself as an opposition party, boycotted the January 10 vote, saying nothing had changed this time around despite Nazarbaev's pivot to a less conspicuous public role after he stepped down.

Several activists were detained in the run-up to the vote, and police kept up the pressure on election day, detaining dozens more in other cities across the country.

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