Kazakhstan’s ruling party is leading its national election, according to an exit poll.
On Sunday, Kazakhs voted for independent candidates in legislative elections, seen as a timid democratic opening in the authoritarian-inclined Central Asian country.
Turnout was around 54%, according to the Electoral Commission.
The results are expected on Monday.
According to an exit poll broadcast on state television, the ruling Amanat party is leading with 53% of the vote, though some concerns have been raised about the validity of the election.
Five to six parties are expected to enter parliament, compared to three currently.
This election saw people voting for a new system, with 69 deputies – out of the 98 in the Majilis (Parliament) – now elected by proportional representation.
Candidates not affiliated with any party could put themselves forward for the first time since 2004.
The threshold for entering the Majilis was lowered to 5% and a quota for 30% of women, young people and individuals with disabilities was also introduced.
These changes have brought a modicum of democracy into Kazakhstan’s political system, following deadly riots in January 2022 fuelled by rising dissatisfaction with the government and endemic poverty.
238 people were killed in the repression of unrest, according to officials.
However, issues have been flagged about the genuineness of reforms, with several opposition parties and independent candidates banned.
“The electoral system has changed and gives the impression of choice. But in reality, the president and his administration keep the vote count in their hands,” political scientist Dimach Aljanov told AFP.
“In an authoritarian country, elections are made to keep power, not to replace it,” he continued.
Election observers have reportedly been shut out of vote counting, plus videos of ballot box stuffing have surfaced on social media.
Euronews cannot independently verify these claims.
The election is a result of a drive to reform the constitution by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who took over in 2019.
The 69-year-old leader of the resource-rich country has shown a desire to “modernise” his country, a former Soviet Republic straddling Russia and China.
The corruption and yawning inequality – made worse by recent inflation – which fuelled unrest in 2022 has not gone away.
“As independent candidates are admitted, I think the electoral system is changing for the better,” said Irina Rechetnik, a nurse, while Ernest Serikov, an 81-year-old retired professor and supporter of the president, called the elections “experimental”.