Snap parliamentary elections are under way in Kazakhstan as the leader of the Central Asian country pushes political reforms.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 am [0100 GMT] on Sunday, according to the AFP new agency reporters in the capital Astana and Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city.
Around 12 million voters have until 8:00 pm to cast their ballots.
The huge, oil-rich nation is wedged between Russia and China, which is gaining status in Central Asia as an economic powerhouse.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the early vote as part of a “modernisation” drive introduced months after protests against fuel prices erupted in January last year, leaving 238 people dead, according to the official toll.
Tokayev, a former diplomat, was hand-picked in 2019 by his predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev to take the helm after a nearly three-decade rule, but Tokayev purged vestiges of that era after the demonstrations.
He promised to reform government institutions and in January dissolved parliament, saying early polls would “give new impetus to the modernisation”.
Wider array of candidates
The ex-Soviet country’s elections now feature a wider array of candidates.
Independent candidates are allowed to run for parliament for the first time in nearly 20 years, whereas the previous lower house was made up of three pro-government parties.
The threshold to enter the 98-seat legislature has been lowered to five percent and a 30 percent quota was introduced for women, young people and people with disabilities.
After the riots, Tokayev was re-elected in a snap presidential vote in November, securing a landslide win in the country of nearly 20 million people.
In economic hub Almaty, the campaign was in full swing with candidate posters on restaurant windows, scaffolding and street lamps.
For some young voters welcomed the new faces.
“This is the first time I’ve seen new parties and independent candidates in parliamentary elections. For me, it’s new,” Adia Abubakir, a 20-year-old graphic designer, told AFP.
In total, seven parties will participate in this election.
“I would like to believe that my voice can make a difference,” said Akbota Silim, a 21-year-old journalist.