Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev scored a crushing win Monday in presidential polls that saw him harvest over 95 percent of votes and raised worries about democracy in Central Asia's richest state.
The Central Election Commission said the first official results showed the incumbent had won 95.5 percent of the vote on mass turnout of 89.9 percent -- both figures beating Nazarbayev's performance in his last re-election in 2005.
The snap poll was boycotted by the leaders of the main opposition and watched closely by Western embassies after social revolutions swept veteran leaders from power in other Muslim nations in the Arab world.
In a bizarre development that confirmed the uncompetitive nature of the polls, one of the three challengers, environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, said he had "expressed my respect for the winner" by voting for Nazarbayev himself.
Opposition leaders argued that the three men facing Nazarbayev had been placed in the field by the government to make the vote look legitimate.
The 70-year-old leader -- in power since Kazakhstan was still a Soviet republic in 1989 -- underscored the scripted tone of Sunday's election by proclaiming himself winner before the official results were announced.
"You expressed trust in our programmes for the future," a beaming Nazarbayev told his supporters.
"What other honours, what other support is needed for a person who heads the country -- the president," the veteran Kazakh leader said in apparent reference to Western criticism for the vote.
His visit to party headquarters ended with Nazarbayev -- a yellow party flag draped around his shoulders -- singing a traditional Kazakh song to rousing applause from his supporters.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe will issue a Kazakh election report Monday at 2:00 pm local time (0800 GMT) which will closely watched for questions over ease of Nazarbayev's victory.
The official turnout figure will come as a particular disappointment for opposition leaders who called a boycott of the vote the only form of protest left for those unhappy with Nazarbayev's regime.
State television spent most of election day airing interviews with ruling party dignitaries who urged to people to vote and a top aide to the president scoffed at the boycott idea once the turnout figure was made public.
"Those who called for a boycott have shown that they know nothing about their own people," presidential aide Yermukhamet Yertysbayev told Khabar state television.
Kazakhstan has come under fire for instituting effective one-party rule in which all political and economic decisions are made by Nazarbayev and his hand-picked ministers and assistants.
But this closed system has pursued a decade of business-friendly policies that have ensured 8.5 percent annual growth and a dramatic improvement in the lives the 16.4 million people living across the vast country's steppes.
Officials insist that this stability -- a mantra of Nazarbayev -- will allow the president to one day open up politics to other voices and make the republic a firmer ally of the West.
"You have to understand Nazarbayev's unique role in Kazakh society. He is our first and only president," presidential adviser Nurlan Yermekbayev said in an interview.
"The next leader will not be the same," the aide said.
Such promises have been dismissed as either too vague or unconvincing by the opposition.
"We have not had fair elections in 20 years," said former Senate member and current human rights leader Zauresh Battalova. "We are hoping that the next elections will be different. But all we can really do is hope and fight."
Source: AFP Global Edition