Protests in the Kazakh city of Almaty against the results of Kazakhstan’s June 9 presidential election ended today before they had even begun, with police scooping up demonstrators, activists, and passersby alike for detention.
More than 30 people were detained on and around Almaty’s Astana Square, a site earlier designated by Mukhtar Ablyazov, the fugitive leader of the banned Democratic Movement Of Kazakhstan, for protests against what opposition supporters consider a rigged election.
Speaking with Current Time from London, Ablyazov attributed the several-hundred-some arrests since election day to fear. The authorities were “simply afraid because they had studied people’s reactions all the previous month and all of June” and understood that “very many” voters would come out to protest. Retired President Nursultan Nazarbaev, whom the opposition believe still controls the government behind the scenes, wanted “the results of the elections to be the way he’d thought them up,” Ablyazov alleged.
With 70.96 percent of the vote according to official preliminary results, Acting President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, ex-President Nazarbaev’s designated successor, leads his closest rival, opposition politician Amirzhan Qosanov, by nearly 55 percentage points.
Turnout was 77.4 percent of Kazakhstan’s 11.94 million registered voters – a number that one opposition figure, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, described to Current Time as “the victory of democracy” and “a protest vote” against ex-President Nazarbaev’s authoritarian policies.
International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that “fundamental freedoms” had been violated during the election and that an “honest” vote-count could not be guaranteed; local observers detailed instances of alleged repeat voting, vote-count irregularities and an apparent attempt to remove ballots from a polling station in the town of Atyrai.
OSCE delegation head Giorgi Tsereteli warned that the election-day arrests of protesters and other citizens “can negatively influence the country’s reputation.”
In response, Toqaev, who has served both as the head of Kazakhstan’s OSCE delegation and as vice-president of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly, advised Kazakhs to take the organization’s findings in stride. “[I] know all about this ‘kitchen’ and how they put together these reports, how much the political biases depend on the country where they’re working,” he said at a press-conference.
As for the detentions, Toqaev underlined that Kazakhstan respects freedom of speech, but that protestors had behaved “inappropriately” by conducting “illegal” demonstrations and had “provoked” law enforcement. Thanking police, he said that law enforcement had taken “the necessary measures.” Three officers had been hospitalized as a result, he added.
The latest detainees join roughly 500 people detained throughout Kazakhstan on election day. Over the next few days, these individuals will appear before judges on charges of participating in unsanctioned protests and disobeying law enforcement.
As on election day, several journalists were also among those taken to district police stations. Journalist Asem Zhapisheva told Current Time that police refused to explain to her why she was detained.
The Almaty city police were not available for comment about the reason for the detentions.
With reporting from Current Time, RIA Novosti