NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, in his first state-of-the-nation address following his election in June, has promised to support political competition and pluralism in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation.
In his speech in parliament on September 2, Toqaev said that future elections "must pave the way for the development of a multiparty system" in the country and he called on local authorities to allow citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations to express their views and opinion freely.
"If the goals of peaceful actions are to not violate the law and disturb other citizens, then such actions must be allowed to be organized and special places must be defined for such events, which must not be in city suburbs," Toqaev said.
Toqaev added though that "any calls for unconstitutional actions and hooliganism will be prevented in a legal way."
The next parliamentary and local elections are scheduled for 2021.
Toqaev won a presidential election on June 9 after Kazakhstan's longtime ruler, Nursultan Nazarbaev, abruptly resigned in March and named the 66-year-old as his successor.
International observers said the election, which saw Toqaev take nearly 71 percent of the vote, was marred by the "detention of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day [that] showed scant respect for democratic standards."
Since taking the reins of power, Toqaev has renamed Astana, the capital, as Nur-Sultan, after his predecessor, and proposed Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, as the chairwoman of the parliament's upper chamber, the Senate.
On September 2, the members of the Senate reelected 56-year-old Nazarbaeva as the chairwoman after she was nominated by Toqaev again. According to the Kazakh Constitution, the Senate's speaker becomes the country's leader if the president is either unable to carry out his duties or resigns.
In recent weeks, police have allowed dozens of small rallies and pickets across the country. This comes in sharp contrast to their actions around Toqaev's election victory, when protests were violently dispersed and hundreds of people detained, some of whom were later either jailed for several days or fined for taking part in unsanctioned rallies.
Nazarbaev, 79, had been president since before Kazakhstan became independent in 1991. In addition to heading the ruling party, he still is chairman of the country’s Security Council and holds the title of elbasy, or leader of the nation.
Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, who tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.
No vote held in Kazakhstan since 1991 has been deemed free and democratic by international observers.