NUR-SULTAN -- Dozens of people from across Kazakhstan gathered at the headquarters of the country's ruling party days before a snap presidential election, demanding a meeting with interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev to discuss what they call wrongful court decisions regarding themselves or their loved ones.
The men and women, many of them visibly frustrated or angry, said that all of their attempts to get justice in the courts had failed and that they want Toqaev to intervene on their behalf. They also demanded the establishment of a state commission to look into their cases, and some unfurled a banner that said: "All members of the Supreme Court must resign!"
One woman felt unwell and an ambulance was called to assist her.
Officials of the ruling Nur-Otan party said that Toqaev, who is the party's nominee and is all but certain to win the election in the tightly controlled country, would not meet with the demonstrators as no appointment was made beforehand. They said they would remain in the building until he does.
The standoff underscored dissatisfaction with the government and tension between state and society in the Central Asian nation ahead of the election, part of a closely choreographed political transition that longtime President Nursultan Nazarbaev set in motion when he resigned in March.
On June 3, dozens of women rallied in front of the presidential palace in Nur-Sultan, the capital, demanding increased social benefits and housing. They chanted "Proper housing for our children!" and demanded that Toqaev, Prime Minister Asqar Mamin, and Nazarbaev -- who remains the head of Nur-Otan -- come and speak to them. None of them did.
Protests over living conditions gained momentum after five children from one family died when their home in the capital burned down in early February. The fire occurred while both parents were working overnight shifts to make ends meet. Another rally by women was held in Nur-Sultan on May 16.
Nazarbaev, 78, had been president since before Kazakhstan gained independence when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. In addition to heading the ruling party, he is chairman of the country’s Security Council and holds the title of elbasy, or leader of the nation. The capital, formerly called Astana, was renamed in his honor after his resignation.
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.