Voters in Kazakhstan go to the polls on Sunday and vote in a snap election, the first since then. deadly unrest seized the resource-rich Central Asian nation a year ago.

The vote comes after a brief but active campaign for seats in the reconfigured lower house of parliament, and falls on the third anniversary of the resignation as president of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev had led Kazakhstan since independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and wielded enormous influence. His successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was widely expected to continue Nazarbayev’s authoritarian course and even renamed the capital Nur-Sultan in his predecessor’s honor.

But the country’s political landscape changed markedly after a wave of violence in January 2022 when provincial protests initially sparked by a rise in fuel prices engulfed other cities, particularly the commercial capital Almaty, and became overtly political as protesters chanted “Old man out!” referring to Nazarbayev.

More than 220 people, mostly protesters, died as police cracked down heavily on the unrest.

Amid the violence, Tokayev removed Nazarbayev from his powerful post as head of the National Security Council. He restored the capital’s former name Astana, and parliament repealed a law granting Nazarbayev and his family immunity from prosecution.

Tokayev also initiated reforms to strengthen parliament, reduce the powers of the president and limit the presidency to a single seven-year term. Under the reforms, a third of the lower house of parliament’s 98 seats will be elected in one-man contests rather than by party list.

Tokayev’s Amanat party holds the overwhelming majority of seats in the current parliament, with the rest held by parties largely loyal to Amanat. Although opinion polls suggest Amanat will remain the largest party in the new parliament, the likely final balance is unclear.

More than 400 candidates, most of them self-nominated, are competing in the one-man contests, and the National Election Commission approved two more parties to participate in the proportional contest.

The increased competition seems to have energized voters.

Although the election campaign was only allowed to start in mid-February, “campaigning so far appears lively, especially online and in constituencies with a mandate with a large number of candidates,” said an assessment by the organization’s election monitoring mission. for security and cooperation in Europe.

Candidates have raised a wide range of issues including further political reforms, housing and rising food prices, and the country shows no clear way forward. But many are encouraged by the increased choice.

“There is hope that the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held under the new mixed electoral system will bring about change and facilitate democratization and political liberalization in Kazakhstan,” analyst Assel Nussopova wrote for the Astana Times newspaper.