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US Backing for Kazakhstan Remains Firm Despite Flawed Election – Voice of America – VOA News

America reaffirmed Tuesday its assist for the independence and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan regardless of the findings of worldwide observers {that a} weekend presidential election fell effectively wanting democratic requirements.

“We look forward to working with President [Kassym-Jomart] Tokayev and his government to advance our common objectives,” mentioned State Division spokesman Ned Value in a statement launched two days after Tokayev cruised to victory towards solely token opposition with greater than 81% of the vote.

“The United States also reiterates its unwavering support for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, which has been the bedrock of our partnership for over 30 years,” Value mentioned.

Whereas pledging to work with Tokayev, whose nation represents the biggest U.S. enterprise companion in Central Asia, the State Division concurred with the findings of an Group for Safety and Cooperation in Europe observer group that judged the election critically poor.

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev casts his poll at a polling station in Astasna, Kazakhstan, Nov. 20, 2022.

The OSCE observers famous that Tokayev, who took over in 2019 from post-Soviet strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, “stood as the joint candidate of all parliamentary parties and, in effect, was not meaningfully challenged in a low-key campaign.”

Tokayev will now serve a seven-year time period on the helm of the strategically situated Central Asian nation bordering Russia and China.

The OSCE’s Workplace for Democratic Establishments and Human Rights (ODIHR) assessed political participation within the election as “significantly constrained, with limitations on fundamental freedoms.” The group’s preliminary assertion famous that democratic safeguards had been disregarded in voting and counting, undermining transparency.

Kazakhstan’s Overseas Ministry denounced the ODIHR report as “biased conclusions, demonstrating a complete unwillingness to recognize the development of the internal situation in our country.”

“The content of the OSCE/ODIHR’s statement demonstrates a lack of desire to develop long-term and constructive cooperation with Kazakhstan authorities, which will, undoubtedly, be taken into account,” Astana warned.

U.S.-based impartial analysts joined the OSCE in expressing disappointment with the election, by which 5 different candidates for president had been on the poll, however none of them instantly challenged Tokayev. He additionally didn’t debate any of the opposite candidates.

“This election was rushed,” mentioned Gavin Helf from the U.S. Institute of Peace at a Caspian Coverage Heart dialogue in Washington, stressing that “Tokayev’s guaranteed reelection is not going to help with external legitimacy in the West.”

A family attend a polling station to vote in Astana, Kazakhstan, Nov. 20, 2022.

A household attend a polling station to vote in Astana, Kazakhstan, Nov. 20, 2022.

William Courtney, America’s first ambassador to Kazakhstan, now on the RAND Company, mentioned Tokayev has raised expectations at dwelling and overseas with public guarantees of democratic reform. However this election, he mentioned, adjustments nothing.

“Is government keeping up with civil society or is the gap between expectations and reality widening?” Courtney requested. “The election is a missed opportunity in the West, seen as fundamentally no different than other elections — snap election, no meaningful choices.”

Kazakhstan nonetheless lacks democratic establishments and an impartial judiciary, he added, components which might be “important for investors as well as those interested in the political development of Kazakhstan.”

Specialists noticed parallels to balloting in neighboring nations, reminiscent of Uzbekistan, the place President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was reelected in a equally uncompetitive trend final 12 months. ODIHR has by no means known as an election in any of the previous Soviet republics of Central Asia free and truthful, apart from noting relative democratic progress in Kyrgyzstan.

Nonetheless, the US is anxious to encourage reform within the oil-rich nation and maybe exploit rising considerations about Russian territorial ambitions following Moscow’s try and forcibly annex elements of Ukraine, one other former Soviet republic.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed support final month for a reform agenda launched by Tokayev following anti-government protests in January that, based on Kazakhstan’s Chief Prosecutor, left 232 useless and a whole lot detained.

The federal government didn’t allow an impartial investigation, however Tokayev promised accountability, which Human Rights Watch and different teams say he has but to ship.

“Our country must shun a close-minded, inward-looking strategy, and look toward the future,” Tokayev wrote in Politico two months in the past, claiming “a democratic mandate to implement a vision for a fairer, more open Kazakhstan.”

FILE - An election poster, in the background, is seen through a bus window in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Nov. 17, 2022.

FILE – An election poster, within the background, is seen via a bus window in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Nov. 17, 2022.

He added that Kazakhstan “has always been a bridge between East and West, lying at the heart of the Silk Road. We have a 7,600-kilometer border with Russia, an 1,800-kilometer border with China, and extensive trading links with Europe and the rest of the world.”

Tokayev has promised “to decentralize decision-making, strengthen rule of law, increase international competitiveness, and ensure equal opportunities for every citizen.”

He claims a “new Kazakhstan” will depart its super-presidential system behind, elevate parliament and native administrations, and ease the registration of political events, abolishing constraints on opposition.

However Western observers don’t but see the indicators of progress.

“I think Tokayev very likely wants a more functional state, which ‘listens’ more to its population,” Helf, of the U.S. Institute of Peace, advised VOA, however “this weekend’s election and the campaign that preceded it show that he’s not interested in meaningful political competition.”

“Tokayev would have won against any candidates who wanted to challenge him. His mandate would have been even more legitimate if he had allowed some opposition,” Helf mentioned.

Richard Hoagland, a former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, known as on the Caspian Coverage Heart discussion board for deeper engagement with the nation.

“If we want to raise our influence, the simplest way to do it is through high-level visits,” mentioned Hoagland, who urged main members of Congress and Cupboard secretaries to tour the area. No U.S. president has ever been to Central Asia.

“I don’t think we fully understand the background and mindset of these countries,” he mentioned.

“There’s a tendency in Washington to keep fitting the situation through the prism of another issue: what Russia does in Central Asia, China’s influence in Central Asia, or the possibility of the Taliban expanding its influence through Central Asia,” fairly than viewing the area by itself phrases.

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, president of Second Ground Methods consultancy, famous that sustaining a strategic partnership with Washington is simply of considered one of a number of competing overseas coverage priorities for Kazakhstan.

He mentioned these embody managing deep ties with Russia and the implications of its struggle in Ukraine, not least migration of Russians to Kazakhstan; Chinese language political and enterprise stress; and renewed curiosity from the European Union.

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