ASTANA, Kazakhstan (AP) — Preliminary results of weekend nationwide polls in Kazakhstan show the long-ruling president confirming his incumbency with 97.7 percent of the vote amid a record turnout, election officials said Monday.
A crushing victory for 74-year-old Nursultan Nazarbavev was widely expected from the moment Sunday's snap elections were announced. Nazarbayev faced only two nominal rivals, and state media have for years nurtured an increasingly extravagant cult of personality devoted to him.
Authorities in the oil-rich Central Asian nation have said they hope the election will serve as a confirmation of legitimacy in uncertain times.
Kazakhstan is facing a slowdown in economic growth amid falling oil prices and recession in neighboring Russia.
The Central Elections Commission said turnout was a record 95 percent.
The high turnout came despite what international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe described as a "hardly visible" campaign. Voter turnout is typically high in authoritarian states in Central Asia — the result of habit carried over from Soviet times and massive marshalling exercises by state officials.
Nazarbayev's victory over his two nominal rivals, a trade union official and a communist politician, has been seen as all but a formality since the elections were announced. The communist candidate, Turgun Syzdykov, ran on a platform that included supporting Nazarbayev.
Speaking to supporters Sunday night, as local exit poll data showed him securing his election win, Nazarbayev hailed the scale of the turnout.
"Without such mass public confidence, it would be difficult to work on completing the difficult tasks at hand," he said. "The record turnout showed the unity of the people of Kazakhstan and their desire to live in a stable state."
Earlier Sunday, Nazarbayev said he would after his re-election pursue creation of a constitutional reform commission to boost the economy and promote political development, greater transparency and openness. Kazakhstan currently has a dismal international reputation for corruption and political and media freedoms.
Authorities are looking with anxiety at the unrest that has gripped Ukraine.
The political turmoil that led to the toppling of a Russia-friendly leader there in 2014 sent ripples of alarm throughout authoritarian regions of the former Soviet Union. Kazakhstan has watched with dismay the war that ensued there as ethnic Russians were goaded by Moscow into mounting an armed insurrection.
Kazakhstan has its own substantial Russian minority and worries about the potential for such a large ethnic group to pursue a separatist agenda similar to that seen in eastern Ukraine.