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Kazakh veteran leader set to win re-polls

President Nursultan Nazarbayev appeared upbeat and confident of his guaranteed victory when he voted in an early election today, repeating his mantra of stability and welfare for Kazakhstan.

world Updated: Apr 03, 2011 12:45 IST

President Nursultan Nazarbayev appeared upbeat and confident of his guaranteed victory when he voted in an early election on Sunday, repeating his mantra of stability and welfare for Kazakhstan.

The echo of the people's revolutions that toppled long-serving authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, and of uprisings in other parts of the Arab world, is almost inaudible in Nazarbayev's predominantly Muslim oil-rich nation.

Genuinely popular across a nation five times the size of France, Nazarbayev has made stability his main motto, overseeing market reforms and attracting massive foreign investment.

Living standards in Kazakhstan are higher than elsewhere in volatile Central Asia which borders Afghanistan and is rocked by radical Islam, ethnic tensions, poverty and the drug trade.

"We all together will vote for stability in our society, for friendship in our polyethnic nation, for our future and for the future of our children ... for the growing welfare of our citizens and for the future of our common home, the Republic of Kazakhstan," Nazarbayev said after casting his ballot.

"Today's vote of our citizens will stress our unity and our aspiration to implement everything that was mapped out in my state-of-the-nation address," he said, making clear he wanted to see the outcome of a drive for industrialisation by 2020.

Challenged by critics at home and rapped by the West for his authoritarian methods, the 70-year-old former steelworker has ruled Kazakhstan since Soviet days, tolerating little dissent in his vast steppe nation of 16.4 million people.

In more than 20 years of his rule of Central Asia's largest economy, Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free or fair by international monitors and Nazarbayev called Sunday's vote almost two years before his term had been due to end.

Nazarbayev said Sunday's election would be "truly honest".

Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe last year was presented by state media as Nazarbayev's achievement. But it was also marred by Western criticism of Astana's backtracking on democratic reforms.

"One-man show"

The opposition, which was left no with time to mobilise its forces, has denounced the early election as a farce and called for a boycott, condemning it as a "Nazarbayev show", which is certain to hand the veteran leader another five years in office.

Nazarbayev has said he will rule as long as his health and people will allow. Few doubt he will easily defeat the other three presidential hopefuls, who have never openly opposed him.

They are environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, Gani Kasymov of the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan and Zhambyl Akhmetbekov of the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan.

"I voted for Nazarbayev," Yeleusizov said, conceding his loss, as he cast his ballot at a polling station in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty. "He is the winner. It was a kind of a sports event. He has won, and I shake his hand by doing so."

"I voted for our favourite president. I hope he will live for a long time. We don't yet have confidence in any other person," pensioner Fidaya Sabirova, 70, said in Astana.

"Where there are wars all around, we have calm."

Alau Murzhusupov, a 30-year-old father of two, echoed her: "We haven't had any terrorist acts or any unrest here. A strong leader means a strong country."

Voters of all ages thronged to a polling station in the village of Kordai near the Kyrgyz border in southern Kazakhstan.

"I voted for Nazarbayev because he keeps his promise and raises pensions," said Boratai Tuleshov, 70. "He is a guarantor of our stability and welfare."

Nazarbayev, who has built warm ties with giant neighbours Russia and China, pleased the United States and the European Union in January by rejecting a proposal by his loyalists to extend his presidency until 2020 through a referendum.

In the previous polls in 2005, Nazarbayev was re-elected by 91.15 % of votes. Voter turnout was 76.78 %. How many of the 9.1 million eligible voters turn out is one of the few unknown factors in this election.

The nation, which covers two time zones, started voting at 7 a.m. (0100 GMT) in the east and polling stations will close at 8 p.m. in the west (1500 GMT). The first official results are expected early on Monday.