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Nazarbayev Expected to Win Snap Elections in Kazakhstan

President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his wife Sara cast their votes at a polling station in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, April 3, 2011

Kazakhstan held a snap presidential election on Sunday, a year before president Nursultan Nazarbayev’s current term expires in 2012.

Heavy turnout was reported Sunday, despite a call by the opposition to boycott the vote. Nazarbayev called the snap election in February, just two months after calling off a referendum that would have extended his rule until 2020.

Nazarbayev, who is expected to win easily, was facing just three other candidates in the election, although more than 20 were planning to run. Elections were originally scheduled for 2012, and opposition politicians say they did not have enough time to prepare their campaigns for Sunday's vote. Most opposition candidates have denounced the vote as a sham.

However, opposition politician Vladimir Kozlov of the People’s Party says Nazarbayev would probably win any election in Kazakhstan.

He says that he thinks that the incumbent president would still have won the elections in 2012. But the opposition would also be have been able to show itself as a more credible force.

Kozlov links Nazarbayev’s popularity to Kazakhstan’s tight business relations with China. Kozlov believes that Kazakhstan needs to move away from dependence on China, which he sees as an unreliable model for democracy.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) dispatched about 300 observers to monitor the vote. A pre-vote report expressed concerns over media restrictions and freedom of expression.

Earlier this week, Daniyar Moldashev, the publisher of a prominent opposition newspaper, Respublica, was reported missing. The French News Agency reports Moldashev was beaten and abducted, however there has been no independent confirmation of his status.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists released a report on 2010 that documented threats and intimidation cases against journalists as well as censorship in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s energy-based economy is booming. The country’s GDP grew by 7 percent in 2010, according to the central bank.

Kazakhstan is also the world’s biggest producer of uranium, and has a customs union with Russia and Belarus.

Nazarbayev, who will turn 71 in July, has not hinted whom, if anybody, he would like to see as a successor.

His re-election as president is considered by many of his supporters as the key to maintaining a stable economic climate in the country, says prominent Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpayev.

He says that countries such as the U.S., Russia and China, as well as Europe, are willing to accept that Nazarbayev remain president, despite some tendencies widely viewed as anti-democratic. He says countries around the world have become used to dealing with the stability that Nazarbayev provides.

Official results are expected Monday.