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dpa/GNA – Parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan on Sunday saw significantly lower voter turnout than the last round, in 2016, as protesters called on people to boycott the polls.

The Central Election Commission in Nur-Sultan said turnout was 63.3 per cent, out of 11.9 million voters eligible to vote.

First results are expected in the early hours of Monday.

Dozens of protesters, echoing the stance of the opposition, were detained on Sunday. Videos showed police surrounding the protesters. Some 30 people were detained, according to reports.

The Social Democratic Party’s boycott means an independent opposition did not take part in the polls, conducted some 18 months after the election of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

The protesters also oppose the continued influence of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ceded office to Tokayev in 2019.

As he cast his ballot, Tokayev said there was a spirit of protest around the world, and that security forces were acting within the law.

Dozens of activists have also been arrested in the past weeks.

Five parties with 312 candidates contested the election. To enter parliament, they have to pass the 7-per-cent hurdle. As in years past, the ruling party, Nur Otan, is expected to win.

The state news agency Kazinform reported post-election polls giving Nur Otan 71.9 per cent of the vote. Only the Ak Shol (Shining Path) party and the People’s Party of Kazakhstan – both loyal to the government – also made it into parliament, according to those figures.

The party took 82 per cent in the 2016 polls.

After Tokayev’s election in June 2019, there were protests against authoritarianism in several cities of the ex-Soviet republic. Hundreds of people were arrested at the time.

While Tokayev replaced Nazarbayev, who retired after around 30 years in power, the latter still holds several influential offices and is considered the most powerful man in the country.

His daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, considered the most powerful woman in the country until she was fired as head of the upper chamber in parliament last year, ran again in the election.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had criticized violations of democratic standards in the parliamentary elections five years ago.

A new OSCE report states that constitutionally protected fundamental freedoms could be restricted by changes in the law.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, stricter rules applied to voting; voters could only enter polling stations with masks covering mouth and nose, and gloves.

According to official figures, more than 161,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus in Kazakhstan in the last year.

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