After each snap election, Kazakhstan’s civil society seems to experience a “déjà vu” – it’s like we have already been through this: interchangeable parties, familiar faces, similar results, identical violations, and the same bitter taste of disappointment in the end. It seemed that this would not happen again this time, since these elections could have been different, featuring self-nominated candidates for the first time in two decades. But in the end, we were once again victims of our expectations.
More than a week has passed since Election Day. Who knows how independent candidates and their campaign teams have lived these past few days, after spending an intense two months campaigning, traveling across their district, talking to voters. Some of these candidates took out loans to fund their own campaigns. When meeting with voters, these independent candidates explained how different these elections could be compared to the previous ones. Beyond their own skepticism, they decided to give this electoral cycle a chance.
“For 30 years, the government instructed us not to interfere in the elections, this time we could not miss the chance,” Lukpan Akhmediyarov said at a meeting with voters. “I’m sure I can better help people and by the next election I hope to do so at a national level,” Alexandra Osipova hoped.
As expected, the ruling Amanat party won a majority of the seats assigned through the proportional system. And none of the independent candidates who actively criticized the government won a seat in the single-mandate constituencies: 23 out of 29 new deputies elected in a first-past-the-post system were members of Amanat, while the remaining six can hardly be called “independent”.
The independents that lost did not accept the results of the elections, pointing to violations during the vote and the subsequent count.
“I went into this race with hope, I was wrong. But I will continue to defend our rights and fight,” Ravkat Mukhtarov, an independent candidate to the Almaty local council said. Mukhtar Taizhan, who ran for a place in the Majilis said the elections were the last nail in the coffin of our hopes for a “New Kazakhstan”.
Despite the results of the elections, for the first time in years we saw unity among various opposition leaders, although several of them ran against each other. There was widespread support for genuine, independent candidates.
The government had the opportunity to restore the people’s trust in its project of institutional change by allowing independent candidates to run in fair elections. Instead, we saw how candidates that were not on the side of the government had no chance of winning. And so, the election that promised change resulted in the most predictable ending.