The United States reaffirmed Tuesday its support for the independence and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan despite the findings of international observers that a weekend presidential election fell well short of democratic standards.
“We look forward to working with President [Kassym-Jomart] Tokayev and his government to advance our common objectives,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price in a statement released two days after Tokayev cruised to victory against only token opposition with more than 81% of the vote.
“The United States also reiterates its unwavering support for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, which has been the bedrock of our partnership for over 30 years,” Price said.
While pledging to work with Tokayev, whose country represents the largest U.S. business partner in Central Asia, the State Department concurred with the findings of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observer group that judged the election seriously deficient.
The OSCE observers noted that Tokayev, who took over in 2019 from post-Soviet strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, “stood as the joint candidate of all parliamentary parties and, in effect, was not meaningfully challenged in a low-key campaign.”
Tokayev will now serve a seven-year term at the helm of the strategically located Central Asian nation bordering Russia and China.
The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) assessed political participation in the election as “significantly constrained, with limitations on fundamental freedoms.” The group’s preliminary statement noted that democratic safeguards were disregarded in voting and counting, undermining transparency.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry denounced the ODIHR report as “biased conclusions, demonstrating a complete unwillingness to recognize the development of the internal situation in our country.”
“The content of the OSCE/ODIHR’s statement demonstrates a lack of desire to develop long-term and constructive cooperation with Kazakhstan authorities, which will, undoubtedly, be taken into account,” Astana warned.
U.S.-based independent analysts joined the OSCE in expressing disappointment with the election, in which five other candidates for president were on the ballot, but none of them directly challenged Tokayev. He also did not debate any of the other candidates.
“This election was rushed,” said Gavin Helf from the U.S. Institute of Peace at a Caspian Policy Center discussion in Washington, stressing that “Tokayev’s guaranteed reelection is not going to help with external legitimacy in the West.”
William Courtney, America’s first ambassador to Kazakhstan, now at the RAND Corporation, said Tokayev has raised expectations at home and abroad with public promises of democratic reform. But this election, he said, changes nothing.
“Is government keeping up with civil society or is the…