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Early presidential elections were held in Kazakhstan on 3 April 2011, having been originally scheduled for 2012.[1] The elections were called after a plan for holding a referendum to increase president term limits to 2020 was rejected by the Constitutional Council.[2]

2011 Kazakh presidential election

← 2005 3 April 2011 2015 →
Turnout89.99% Increase 13.19 pp
  Dialogue award Nazarbayev.jpg Gani Qasymov.jpg
Nominee Nursultan Nazarbayev Gani Qasymov
Party Nur Otan Patriots Party
Popular vote 7,850,958 159,036
Percentage 95.55% 1.94%

President before election

Nursultan Nazarbayev
Nur Otan

Elected President

Nursultan Nazarbayev
Nur Otan

Nazarbayev was re-elected for a third term with 95% of the vote and a 90% turnout, against three nominal candidates.[3] The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has complained about a lack of transparency and competition in the vote.


A referendum on extending presidential term limits was proposed to be held around March 2011.[4] President Nursultan Nazarbayev's term was due to expire in 2012 and the referendum would have bypassed the next two scheduled elections.[5] A Kazakh official stated that the move would "help save our efforts and resources since everyone knows the outcome of the elections beforehand."[4] It would have been the second referendum on extending Nazarbayev's term in office, the first in 1995 having extended his term until 2000,[6] whilst in 2007 parliament amended the electoral law to allow candidates to run without term limits.[4]

Although Nazarbayev rejected the proposal, it would still have gone ahead if 80% of the members of the parliament (100% controlled by his party) voted for it, or if a public petition obtained at least 200,000 signatures. Media reports suggested that a petition for the referendum had already been signed by 2,600,000 people.[7]

On 31 January the Constitutional Council rejected the referendum proposal for a Constitutional amendment aimed at extending Nazarbayev's term till 2020,[8] on the ground that the amendment did not specify for how long and how many times the Presidential term could be extended. The Court therefore referred the matter to the President himself, as required by the Constitution of Kazakhstan. Nazarbayev agreed on putting aside the Constitutional referendum and immediately called for an early presidential election. According to analysts, Nazarbayev may have stepped back from the plan of term extension due to negative reactions by both USA, EU and OSCE, and in order to buy five years time to settle succession issues.[9]


Twenty-two potential candidates were counted before the registration process began; their number was finally reduced to four, including no established opposition leaders. Strict registration requirements include a rigorous examination in Kazakh language skills (in daily life nowadays supplanted by Russian language), as well as a high number of signature, but no clear criteria for evaluation of the language skills or the verification of the signature lists is present, thus providing administration with wide discretion.[10] The law requiring fluency in Kazakh was enacted in the 1990s, but enforcement had never been stringent in previous elections. Opponents charged that the test was administered in such a way as to disqualify Nazarbayev's opponents.[11]

  • Little-known environmental activist Musaghali Duambekov, leader of the movement For a Green Planet and reportedly close to president Nursultan Nazarbayev's nephew Qairat Satybaldy, took the required Kazakh language test on 9 February 2011 and thus became the first candidate.[12]
  • Nazarbayev himself announced on 11 February 2011 that he would run for reelection.[13] His candidacy was approved on 18 February 2011.[14]
  • Former member of parliament Ualikhan Qaisarov had taken the test on 8 February 2011 and failed.[12]
  • In total, eight candidates have either withdrawn their applications or failed the mandatory Kazakh language test. Later, during the oath ceremony, Nazarbayev was reported to fall in several linguistic mistakes[15]

Officially registered candidates are:

All other candidates support Nazarbayev, and Qasymov reportedly passed the language test despite not even speaking the language.[16] The environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, even admitted to voting for Nazarbayev.[10]

The short timespan before election (two months since its declaration) was cited by opposition leaders as impeding them to prepare and contest the poll.[17] They therefore refused to take part in the vote and called for a boycott.[3]

The option to vote "against all", common in post-Soviet countries, was last legally available in the 1999 presidential election.[18]


4.7 billion tenge ($32 million) have been allocated by the Kazakh government as election budget, with an increase of $11.6 million in comparison with previous presidential election in 2005, justified with inflation and higher salaries for local election commission personnel.[19]


Independent NGOs such as RFE/RL have reported increasing censorship by Kazakh authorities since February.[20]

On March 2, RFE/RL reported severe disruption of access to its websites, allegedly linked to orders received by government-controlled service providers KazTelecom and Nursat.[21]


The OSCE/ODIHR has opened an electoral observation mission, headed by Ambassador Daan Everts, including 25 experts, 28 long-term observers, and 400 seconded short-term observers, in order to assess the election for compliance with OSCE commitments and other international standards /for democratic elections, as well as with domestic legislation.[22]

Reported pressuresEdit

The queue at a polling station located in the campus of Al-Farabi Kazakh National University.

International monitors cited numerous cases of ballot box-stuffing, voter intimidation and a lack of transparency.[10]

University students from the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty have reportedly being pressured to vote or face expulsion, thus being seen queueing at early morning on Sunday in a drizzling weather.[18]

The OSCE received multiple reports of people being pressured to vote, and government officials were seen intimidating voters in universities, hospitals and military encampments. Other kinds of reported violations include seemingly identical signatures on voter lists and numerous cases of ballot box-stuffing. The OSCE concluded that the vote count lacked transparency and that correct procedures were often disregarded.[3]


The reported turnout of over 90%, with an increase of 76.8% since the previous election,[17] sounded astonishing, given the low-key electoral campaign, and raised suspicion of election rigging.[18]

Candidate Party Votes %
Nursultan Nazarbayev Nur Otan 7,850,958 95.55
Gani Qasymov Patriots Party 159,036 1.94
Zhambyl Akhmetbekov Communist People's Party 111,924 1.36
Mels Eleusizov Tabighat 94,452 1.15
Invalid/blank votes 62,857
Total 8,279,227 100
Registered voters/turnout 9,200,298 89.99
Source: CEC


The OSCE complained about a lack of transparency and competition in the vote. Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said Kazakhstan will need to work before the 2012 parliamentary election to improve its election laws and strengthen media freedoms and the right to free assembly.[18] Daan Everts, head of the OSCE election observation mission, said that the election revealed shortcomings similar to those seen in previous ones and “could and should have been better.”: “We have regrettably to conclude that the elections were not as good as we hoped and expected,” The statement was endorsed by the American embassy in Astana.[10]


  1. ^ Kazakhstan's President Nazarbayev calls early election BBC News, 4 February 2011
  2. ^ Kazakh Constitutional Council Rejects Referendum To Extend Nazarbaev's Rule Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 31 January 2011
  3. ^ a b c Washington Post
  4. ^ a b c Kazakh President Nazarbayev may stay in office until 2020: senior official[permanent dead link] Xinhua, 24 December 2010
  5. ^ Kazakhstan parliament votes to scrap presidential poll BBC News, 29 December 2010
  6. ^ Kazakh election body approves referendum on extending Nazarbayev's term until 2020 Ria Novosti, 27 December 2010
  7. ^ Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev rejects plan to scrap elections BBC News, 7 January 2011
  8. ^
  9. ^ Library of the Congress report by Peter Roudik
  10. ^ a b c d The Economist
  11. ^ Najibullah, Farangis. Kazakh Language Exams Test Grammar, Loyalty,, 2011-02-20. Accessed 2011-04-10.
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ RFE/RL
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Asia News
  18. ^ a b c d Washington Examiner[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ RFE/RL, Kazakhstan To Spend $32 Million On Presidential Election, 22 February 2011
  20. ^ RFE/RL, Ahead Of Elections, Kazakhstan Blocks Websites, 2 March 2011
  21. ^ RFE/RL, 2 March 2011
  22. ^ ODIHR[permanent dead link], 1 March 2011