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Nazarbayev's Hand-Picked Successor Declared Winner in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attends a news conference at the Akorda presidential residence in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, June 10, 2019.

Kazakhstan’s interim president, the hand-picked successor of long time ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, was declared the winner of Sunday's presidential election, defeating six other government-approved candidates.

The country’s Central Election Commission said on Monday that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev won nearly 71 percent of the vote with all the ballots counted and his nearest challenger, opposition candidate Amirzhan Kosanov, had about 16 percent.

Election observers were critical of the election.

"A lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards," observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said of Sunday's vote.

Police in Kazakhstan have arrested about 500 protesters marching against Sunday's early presidential election that they call illegal.

Some protesters chanted "shame shame shame" as they were hauled away, urging police to ignore orders to arrest them and "come to the side of the people."

Opposition supporters had called for a boycott, saying Sunday's election would be neither free nor fair. They call it an illegal and orchestrated transfer of power from one authoritarian leader to another.

Tokayev became acting president in March, when Nazarbayev stunned Kazakhstan as he unexpectedly announced his resignation as president. He had said he would continue the same policies as Nazarbaev if elected president.

Nazarbaev governed the country since it was part of the Soviet Union and through its independence in 1991.

Although Kazakhstan has thrived economically because of huge oil and gas deposits, the country has a poor human rights record under Nazarbayev, with free speech suppressed and nearly all independent media outlets shut down.