Voters across Kazakhstan have turned out to cast ballots in presidential elections that are being closely watched for possible signs of the country's future course. Latest polls and most analysts suggest that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev will win the vote easily, earning him another seven years in power.
Throughout the election campaign, President Nazarbayev has stressed the need to maintain stability under his rule in order to deliver on his pledge of riches for all of Kazakhstan's people.
That message appears to have resonated with many of the people turning out at the polls on Sunday. One young woman, who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity, said she hopes her first ever presidential vote will count for a bright future and continued stability.
Another voter expressed confidence the election would not be marred by fraud and said the opposition has no reason to protest the results. Even if they do, she added, those who don't like the results can just leave.
But this man, the only one we spoke with at the polls who admitted voting for the united democratic opposition, says Kazakhstan is his home and that he will stay and fight for change.
The man says he voted for the leader of Kazakhstan's united opposition, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, because he says he agrees with him that the incumbent government risks stunting democratic development in Kazakhstan by favoring economic interests over democratic reform.
A builder by trade, the man says that despite fear and possible risks to his personal safety, he will be ready to go out into the streets to protest, if Sundays presidential election is declared invalid by the West.
The man says he hates to think of himself as living in a country that, in his words, has no rule of law.
Previous elections in Kazakhstan have been criticized by independent observers who say there were problems with voter lists, access to the media and intimidation of opposition candidates. Mr. Tuyakbai says he has little hope this time will be any different.
Still, Mr. Tuyakbai has stressed that despite intimidation and harassment of the opposition during the pre-election campaign, and next to no access to the media, the opposition must exercise all peaceful, democratic means, before resorting to street protests.
Casting his ballot in the capital, Astana, President Nazarbayev said he is sure these elections will be more democratic than ever before. President Nazarbayev says Kazakhstan is immune to Ukraine or Georgia-style election-related protests, saying citizens here are not ready for western-style democracy. Many analysts agree, but primarily because they say the united opposition is not yet strong enough to mount any serious challenge to Mr. Nazarbayev's well entrenched rule.
First results are expected early Monday. But with most polling indicating President Nazarbayev could take up to 70 percent of the vote, anticipation now shifts to the initial election assessment expected to be rendered Monday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the main international body monitoring Kazakhstan's poll.
On the eve of the vote, the OSCE reportedly expressed concern in an interview with the French news agency, AFP, that not all of its recommendations to ensure a clean vote had been followed. Ruling party officials reject the charge and accuse the OSCE of changing the requirements as they go along.