By Paul Goble
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Almaty and Nur-Sultan [Astana], shouting “Nur-Sultan is not my capital, [Kasym-Zhomart] Tokayev is not my president, and Dariga [Nazarbayeva] is not my speaker” and calling for a boycott of the presidential elections slated for June 9 in which Nazarbayev’s chosen successor Tokayev is to be confirmed.
The unsanctioned meetings show that however much respect most Kazakhs have for Nazarbayev, many are not prepared to accept his right to choose his own successor. Consequently, the protests, albeit relatively small, are an indication that the transition may be far harder than many imagine.
The best reportage on the events is provided by Radio Liberty’s Kazakh Service. It notes that the police told the demonstrators to disperse and when they did not detained some of them, adding to the number of political prisoners in Kazakhstan that the protesters also demanded be released (rus.azattyq.org/a/kazakhstan-nur-sultan-almaty-rally-1-may/29914075.html).
In response to those demands, the police in Nur-Sultan did release those detained on their own recognizance. Some of those released said they had been beaten. After this, the demonstrators began to disperse. Meanwhile, some 300 Kazakhs demonstrated in Almaty. Their agenda appeared somewhat broader.
In addition to calling for a boycott of the presidential elections and freedom for political prisoners, they also demanded that the construction of an atomic power station in Kazakhstan be stopped, that the current capital retain the name of Astana, and that the authorities consult with the people about the changes that the country needs now and in the future.
The authorities in the second capital tried to drown out the speeches of protest leaders with music from an officially organized celebration of the Day of the Unity of the People of Kazakhstan taking place in the same park. The police also tried to restrict the movement of protesters by locking the gates.
When the police unlocked the gates, some people began to leave but others remained to talk about the many problems they face, Radio Liberty reported. Later, the police detained “about 100: of the protesters. They were loaded on buses and taken to police stations, other protesters said.