Kazakhstan says thwarted coup attempt ahead of early vote

Kazakhstan says thwarted coup attempt ahead of early vote


Kazakhstan said Thursday it prevented an attempted coup by supporters of an exiled opposition figure when it arrested seven people ahead of this weekend’s presidential election.

On Sunday, Kazakhstan will hold a swift presidential election expected to consolidate the power of incumbent Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, months after deadly unrest rocked the Central Asian country and killed more than 230 people.

The National Security Committee said a group of seven plan to “organize riots and a coup and call in a provisional government,” adding that the suspects “share the views of exiled opponent Mukhtar Ablyazov.”

Ablyazov, a former energy minister and bank chairman, is a highly controversial figure who tried and convicted Kazakhstan in absentia of murder and embezzlement.

Ablyazov, who lives in France, has loudly called for protests via his social media channels.

The security service said the group is trying to organize large-scale riots and plans to use weapons and projectiles to attack administrative buildings and law enforcement agencies.

Weapons, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, sawed-off shotguns, ammunition and materials for Molotov cocktails, and walkie-talkies were confiscated, sources said.

Tokayev, 69, became leader in 2019 and has stymied the opposition and consolidated power, marginalizing his authoritarian predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev after the January riots.

He has touted himself as a reform leader capable of uniting the country.

Earlier this year he had empowered law enforcement officers with “shoot to kill” orders.

The vast ex-Soviet country is geopolitically precarious as Ukraine’s historic economic and military ties with Moscow come under pressure and Beijing emerges as a regional power broker.

Tokayev has promised to build “a new Kazakhstan” by liberalizing the judiciary, fighting corruption and enacting reforms.

But the deep social inequality that was the origin of the January protests remains a problem and a potential political threat.

Tokayev faces five little-known challengers as he seeks a seven-year term in the snap vote he initiated in September, saying he needs a “new people’s confidence mandate.”

The election was originally scheduled for December 2024, but in March he introduced constitutional reforms to limit the president’s powers and strengthen the role of parliament, prompting the early vote.

– “No real choice” –

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have criticized Kazakhstan’s failure to meet election recommendations, including “conditions for the admission and registration of candidates”.

“There is no credible candidate. There is no real choice. I will vote against everyone,” said Asset Terirgaliyev, a retiree from Almaty, the country’s economic capital, the city that was an epicenter of the unrest and the repression that followed.

“These elections are a farce,” architect Aidar Ergaly told AFP.

“If Tokayev had said, ‘I’ll annul the vote. I’ll stay in power for seven years – or however long I want – and then I’ll leave,’ I would respect his honesty.”

Political scientist Andrei Chebotarev said the violence in January, which brought the country “to the brink of civil war”, also led to a “change in the foundations of society and the state”.

– balancing act –

“A little time has passed and we don’t see any real changes yet,” said pensioner Svetlana Kadysheva.

Janiya Nakizbekova, a 57-year-old entrepreneur, was more optimistic.

“We have great hopes for Tokayev and believe that he cares more about people than Nazarbayev.”

The International Monetary Fund has warned of the continued risk of instability as Kazakhstan’s economy, which is heavily dependent on Russia, suffers the effects of the war in Ukraine.

A former diplomat, Tokayev has earned a reputation as a shrewd politician and is expected to continue to bridge the gap between the West, Russia and China.

He has also criticized Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but has not sided with Western sanctions against Russia.

Around 12 million people are entitled to vote. Polling stations open at 0100 GMT on Sundays and close at 1500 GMT.

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