Kazakhstan makes coup claims ahead of rubber-stamp election
Kazakhstan’s authorities claim they prevented an attempted coup by supporters of an exiled opposition leader ahead of Sunday’s presidential election.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 69, is almost guaranteed to extend his term by seven years.
Tokayev faces five candidates that do not pose any opposition and during this week’s televised debates, which did not include the president, the other candidates failed to criticise the administration.
Unrest broke out in the giant Central Asian dictatorship in January, leaving more than 230 people dead.
The National Security Committee reported that seven people planned to “organise riots and a coup and proclaim a provisional government”. The seven suspects “share the views of exiled opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov”.
Ablyazov, a former banking chief and energy minister who now lives in France, has been sentenced in absentia for murder and embezzlement.
He has encouraged protests through his social-media channels.
Although a self-promoter, Ablyazov poses little threat to Tokayev’s rule. The authorities, however, use him as a scapegoat for crackdowns on any perceived opposition.
Observers asked if the authorities had shared the coup attempt reports to threaten activists looking to hold actual protests during the election at the weekend.
The Kazakh authorities said activists planned to attack government and police offices with weapons and projectiles.
Kalashnikovs, shotguns, ammunition, firebomb equipment and walkie-talkies were confiscated, the organisation said.
Tokayev, 69, became leader in 2019 and sidelined his authoritarian predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, after the January violence.
His promises of political reform have yielded few results. A referendum this year opted to strengthen the Kazakh parliament and weaken the presidency but the changes are seen as largely cosmetic.
Sunday’s election suggests Tokayev is not serious about reforms but he does appear interested in economic modernisation.
Tokayev has attempted to attract western investment as Russia’s economy declines.
The Kazakh Chamber of Commerce this month unveiled an investment campaign, mentioning interest from growing western financial institutions, partly because of sanctions imposed on Russia since the February invasion of Ukraine and the departure of many regional headquarters from Moscow.
Tokayev also wants to develop the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route connecting China and Europe through Azerbaijan and Georgia or Turkey, avoiding Russia.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Picture credit: Kremlin