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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE GREAT GAME: Smug Rulers Play for Keeps In Kazakhstan




So he won, of course. Nursultan Nazarbayev is back in power for another seven years, the resounding winner of Sunday's presidential elections.


With 10 years already behind him as leader of Kazakhstan, he is starting to look like a permanent fixture.


He won with an unlikely 81 percent, with an 85 percent turnout. The firework displays went up over Almaty even before the final results were confirmed.


The president said he was satisfied. But no one in this vast Central Asian nomads' land thinks the result was real. The count was surely falsified, and rather late in the day the losers are calling foul. They seemed to be shocked that after an orderly day of voting, the figures could be faked so blatantly.


One local observer even saw election commission officials falsify the results when they thought he wasn't watching. They simply put the ballot papers aside and wrote in fake totals on the protocol.


The Communist Party candidate only got 12 percent, although he was predicted to get some 20 percent. Even more surprising was the poor showing of the retired general Gany Kasymov, who combines the populist antics of Zhirinovsky and the tough talking appeal of Lebed. He put some sparkle into the election campaign when he hurled a vase at a journalist who asked him on camera about his rumored drinking problem.


On election day, quite a few people said they had voted for him. And judging by the number I met during street interviews, he probably won more than the 5 percent officially recorded.


The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe came out with a very strong statement (for them), condemning the elections as falling far short of Kazakhstan's commitments as a member of the OSCE. The U.S. State Department also weighed in. The elections have "tarnished Kazakhstan's reputation and will make it more difficult for Kazakhstan to participate in international organizations. It has also cast a shadow on our bilateral relations," a spokesman said.


The fact is that the United States has few levers over Kazakhstan and can change little. The most it can do is deny Nazarbayev a meeting with Clinton during his next visit to the United States. That may upset Nazarbayev but will not change anything.


The foreign companies will continue to come to exploit oil and mineral opportunities. Regardless of his legitimacy at the ballot box, they will deal with Nazarbayev. All in all, it looks like business as usual.


The president knows it and was sounding smug. He told a Reuters journalist: "Do you remember the times when turnout was 99.9 percent and the votes came in at 99.9 percent in favor? Well you could say that we have allowed democracy to progress by 20 percent."


Perhaps 81 percent is more modest than awarding himself 99.9 percent, but how cynical can you get?


The president's men were even worse. Just two days after stealing the election, the head of the presidential campaign team announced they would create a pro-Nazarbayev political party and go on to contest the elections in 2006.


Not just smug, but utterly arrogant. It was a warning to any would-be opponents to forget it, but also a kick in the teeth to any ordinary citizen who voted for change. It bodes ill for the future of any sort of equal and just society in Kazakhstan.