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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exit Polls Give Nazarbayev Victory

APAn elderly man casting his ballot as a traditional folk ensemble plays at a polling station near Almaty on Sunday.
ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- Four exit polls indicated Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled oil-rich Kazakhstan since Soviet times, easily won a new seven-year term in Sunday's presidential election.

The largest poll, surveying some 300,000 people, found him winning 86.9 percent of the vote. The poll was conducted nationwide by the Association of Sociologists and Political Analysts.

Another exit poll of some 16,000 voters by the Kazakhstan Institute for Social and Political Information think tank put his support at 77 percent, with 13.42 percent voting for Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the biggest of his four challengers. Two other exit polls also put Nazarbayev's support above 80 percent, with Tuyakbai receiving less than 10 percent.

The exit poll results are likely to undermine any opposition opportunity to claim a miscount. But complaints are likely that the comparatively authoritarian government did not allow a genuinely free vote.

Election officials plan to announce preliminary results on Monday.

Nazarbayev, who has ruled for 16 years, often shows an authoritarian streak, and opposition candidates claim their campaigns have been hindered by the theft of campaign materials, seizure of newspapers backing them and denial of attractive sites to hold rallies. His two previous election victories were widely criticized as undemocratic.

Nazarbayev said, "This year's elections are being held in unprecedented democratic conditions."

But Itar-Tass later reported that Vladimir Rushailo, head of the CIS monitoring mission, said observers had noted some violations at the station where Nazarbayev voted, including one person casting two ballots into a box.

Vladimir Pekhtin, head of the Russian contingent of CIS observers, said his colleagues had not recorded any serious problems and that "we can say the election took place practically without violations."

Seventy-five percent of the electorate, about 6.7 million people, voted.

Bolat Abilov, campaign chief for Tuyakbai, said late Sunday that Tuyakbai observers saw many violations, including people being excluded from voter lists and some voters being ordered to cast ballots for Nazarbayev.

Kazakh officials have alleged that the opposition plans post-election disturbances similar to protests in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan that helped bring opposition figures to power.

Tuyakbai, who voted in Almaty, the country's commercial capital, said that if there is evidence of election fraud, he and his supporters "will use all legal means to resist."

The assessment of international election observers is likely to play a key role in how the opposition responds to the elections. The observation mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose conclusions are widely regarded in the West as definitive, will issue a preliminary report Monday.