(Bloomberg) -- Kazakhstan’s ruling party won a commanding majority in early parliamentary elections on Sunday that were marred by low turnout and what international observers called “discrepancies” in the conduct of the vote.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev brought forward the ballot in the energy-rich country from 2025, saying it marked the final stage of a government “reset” in response to deadly riots last year. Seven parties, including two newly-registered ones, competed for 69 party-list seats in the 98-member parliament, with the remainder filled by the winners of new single-mandate contests that are part of Tokayev’s shake-up of the legislature. 

The ruling Amanat party received 53.9% of the ballots, leading the second-highest vote-getter by 43 percentage points, according to a preliminary tally announced by Kazakhstan’s central election commission on Monday. 

Turnout was estimated at around 54%, far below the 63% participation in previous parliamentary elections under Tokayev in 2021.

“While Amanat got a bit more than 50%, this doesn’t change anything as the other parties are mini-Amanats,” said Dosym Satpayev, director of the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group. “Interest in the elections was minimal.”

Although observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said “contestants campaigned actively and freely” in the Sunday elections, they also expressed concerns about the ballot.

“While the elections brought elements of competitiveness into the political arena, diverse administrative obstacles negatively affected the equality of campaign opportunities for some self-nominated candidates,” they said in a report on Monday.

Starting Over

Tokayev, 69, has moved to dismantle the legacy of his long-serving predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev following unrest in January 2022 that the president denounced as an attempted coup. 

To help put down the violence, he called in Russian troops and then revised the constitution to restrict the presidency to one seven-year term before winning 81% in snap elections in November.

In the 2021 parliamentary elections, the ruling Nur Otan party founded by Nazarbayev — who held power for three decades — won 76 seats. It changed its name to Amanat last year.

All but one party that took part in the elections on Sunday passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament, including an upstart group formed just a few months before elections.

Kazakhstan still operates a “super-presidential system” that was created under Nazarbayev, emerging from the elections with a legislature that “isn’t independent” and “doesn’t reflect the interests of different electoral groups,” Satpayev said.

‘Another Trap’

“The authorities are driving themselves into another trap, deceiving themselves about support from the people” he said. “Little time is left for reforms.”

At stake now is the ability of Tokayev to push ahead with a contentious agenda that includes structural reforms and an effort to take on vested interests by targeting assets linked to the former ruler’s family. 

Besides arrests that ensnared an ex-prime minister — who at the time was the chief of Kazakhstan’s national security service — and Nazarbayev’s nephew, Tokayev has also barred close relatives of the president from taking posts in government and state-run companies. 

More than a year after crushing the riots with the help of troops sent by President Vladimir Putin, Tokayev hasn’t backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in return for its help. 

Instead, the Kazakh president has sought to strengthen ties to the European Union and the US to try to reduce the Central Asia’s country’s dependence on Moscow. 

Economic challenges, including high inflation, are also top of mind for Tokayev. The government is selling vegetables from state stockpiles in an attempt to cool off food prices, which pushed annual inflation past 21% in February, the fastest since 1997.

“Expectation for a ‘New Kazakhstan’ has significantly waned since Tokayev pledged to overhaul the country’s political economy,” said Kate Mallinson, founder of Prism Political Risk Management in London. “In reality, the government is likely to continue to prioritize short-term populist policies over longer-term much needed reforms to reduce corruption and establish functioning institutions.”

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