June 09, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Hundreds of protesters held unauthorized demonstrations in Kazakhstan to oppose an early presidential election Sunday, drawing riot police and arrests. Police roughly broke up the demonstrations in Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, the country’s main commercial city. Deputy Interior Minister Marat Kozhayev said about 100 protesters were detained in all, news reports said.

The protesters complained the snap election was illegitimate, staged as a show to hand over power to a loyalist of the longtime president who resigned in March. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the upper house speaker who became acting president when President Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down, is expected to win Sunday’s contest easily.

Seven candidates are on the ballot, including a genuine opposition figure for the first time since independence. The resignation of the 78-year-old Nazarbayev, who had led Kazakhstan since it separated from the Soviet Union to become an independent country in 1991, came as a surprise to many who expected him to run for re-election next year.

The opposition candidate, Amirzhan Kossanov, said Sunday he had no complaints about violations during the campaign. “But the most important result, the peak of the election political process, is counting of the votes,” Kossanov said.

Preliminary results were expected early Monday. Kazakhstan has experienced rising opposition sentiment recently. Anti-government rallies were held in the spring to protest what opponents saw as an orchestrated handover of power and to call for a boycott of the early presidential vote.

One of the most prosperous former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan stands at a crossroads between neighbors China and Russia.