Tue, 22 Oct 2019

NUR-SULTAN -- Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has been inaugurated as Kazakhstan's new president following an election that was marred by what international observers called 'widespread voting irregularities' and the arrest of hundreds of peaceful protesters.

Toqaev, who was handpicked by former authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev to be his successor, took the oath of office on June 12 during a ceremony at the Palace of Independence in the capital, Nur-Sultan, as state prosecutors warned against further rallies.​

The 66-year-old took nearly 71 percent of the ballots in the June 9 early presidential election, according to official final results.

Toqaev's landslide victory was widely expected after he received the blessing of Nazarbaev, who officially stepped down as president in March following almost 30 years in power.

Nazarbaev continues to hold many important political positions and still wields considerable power within the energy-rich Central Asian state and inside his political party, Nur-Otan, whose presidential candidate was Toqaev.

A wave of protests across Kazakhstan during the campaign period against the lack of fairness in the election continued during and after the snap presidential poll.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, the leader of the banned opposition movement Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice (DVK), is calling on his supporters to take to streets of Nur-Sultan and the country's largest city, Almaty, later in the day to protest against the election results.

Ablyazov, a vocal critic of Nazarbaev, lives in self-imposed exile in France.

In his inauguration speech, Toqaev did not explicitly mentioned the anti-government demonstrations but spoke in a conciliatory tone.

'Dialogue between the authorities and the people is needed,' he said, adding that such a dialogue 'must be based on the recognition of the plurality of opinions.'

Toqaev announced that he planned to set up a special national council that would be open to young activists, among others.

The council will first convene in August, he added.

The inauguration ceremony was followed by a military parade that was attended by Nazarbaev.

With further anti-government protests expected, the Prosecutor-General's Office warned that people joining them would continue to be detained and could face criminal prosecution.

"Some individuals continue distributing provocative calls via social networks to hold [rallies] in the country's large cities,' a statement said. 'They are inciting others to use violence against law enforcement officers.'

Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were blocked in Kazakhstan on June 12, according to the British-based NetBlocks group that monitors cyberspace.

An increased police presence was visible in downtown Almaty and Nur-Sultan.

Two leading Kazakh human rights groups have urged the government to thoroughly investigate the detention of hundreds of protesters, saying that police used 'unnecessarily excessive violence against protesters' in Nur-Sultan, Almaty, and other towns and cities.

Kazakhstan's Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and Human Rights Charter Foundation said in a joint statement on June 11 that many of those arrested were kept for up to 10 hours without food, water, and contact with their relatives.

In their preliminary statement on the election, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that 'a lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards.'

In Nur-Sultan, Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Aleksei Borodavkin told the TASS news agency on June 12 that 'a truly historical event happened in Kazakhstan -- a president has been elected.'

The presidential poll 'marked a new stage of Kazakhstan's development,' Borodavkin said. 'I think that Kazakhstani people made the right choice.'

None of the elections held in Kazakhstan since it became independent in 1991 has been deemed free or fair by international organizations.

With reporting by TASS

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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