Kazakhstan's recent presidential election – won by incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev with an extraordinary 95.5 percent of the vote and an 89 percent turnout – was controversial in many quarters. In particular, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers lamented “the absence of opposition candidates” and “a vibrant political discourse.”
But the election’s shortcomings were sidestepped during a panel discussion, titled “The Future of Kazakhstan after the Presidential Election,” hosted May 12 by the Jamestown Foundation and held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. Instead, the speakers chose to look at the bigger picture, examining Kazakhstan's debatable democratization record. Rights activists have assailed Astana for failing to fulfill reform promises. But the round-table participants painted an optimistic picture about Kazakhstan’s past, present and future.
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Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East. He is the editor of EurasiaNet's Bug Pit blog.