Voters in Kazakhstan's rural districts are casting their ballots in the authoritarian Central Asian country's first-ever direct election of local mayors.
Nealy 2,300 candidates are competing for the 729 seats in the July 25 polls that President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has described as a stepping-stone toward electing more senior public figures, instead of appointing them.
Under Kazakhstan's current political system, the president appoints the governors of the country's 14 provinces. Provincial governors in turn name the mayors of major districts. Then, those mayors appoint the heads of smaller rural districts from candidates chosen by local representative bodies dominated by the ruling Nur-Otan party.
Under the new system introduced by Toqaev in September 2020, any citizen 25 or older can run for the position -- the lowest in the administrative hierarchy. Those who have been convicted of corruption are not eligible.
As many as 1,419 out of the 2,297 candidates are registered as independents. The remaining 878 candidates represent officially registered political parties.
Rural mayors aren't allowed to hold office for more than two four-year terms. The final election results are expected in the next three days.
The mayors of 45 larger districts will also be chosen in a direct vote that is expected to take place by the end of the year.
Toqaev came to power two years ago as a handpicked successor to Nursultan Nazarbaev, who ruled the energy-rich country with an iron fist between 1991 and 2019. Nazarbaev continues to wield considerable influence as chairman of the Security Council and enjoys almost limitless powers as "elbasy" -- leader of the nation.