Kazakhstan presidential election: Five things to know about the country

ALMATY, Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan, due to hold a presidential election on Sunday, is a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, rich in oil and other natural resources.
Astana, the capital, has known many names in its short history.
First called Akmola, the village lost among the steppe, it became Akmolinsk in the 1830s during the Russian empire’s conquest of Central Asia. Under the Soviet Union, Akmolinsk in 1960 was renamed Tselinograd, or “the city of virgin land” in Russian, for an agriculture revival programme.
Then in 1998, President Nursultan Nazarbayev renamed it Astana, which means capital in Kazakh to stress its new status.
In 2019, it was yet again renamed Nur-Sultan in the autocrat’s honour.
Finally in 2022, this avant-garde architectural laboratory built with petro dollars reverted to Astana as President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sought to rid the country of his predecessor’s influence.
The old capital Almaty in the south remains the biggest city and commercial hub.
Kazakhstan is the ninth-largest country in the world with an area of more than 2.7 million square kilometres (1.1 million square miles).
The vast Kazakh steppe is home to the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome — still the world’s biggest launch pad nearly 60 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted off from there to become the first man in space.
Kazakhs may make up nearly 70 percent of the population, according to latest figures from 2020, but historically the country has had a large Russian minority.
Russians made up more than 40 percent of its people in the 1970s but their numbers have since fallen to one in five of the population.
Officially home to 130 nationalities, many were deported there in Soviet times as political prisoners, with German, Greek, Tatar, Polish, Korean, Ingush and Georgian Turk communities springing up across the steppe.
Kazakhstan is proud of its nomadic history and marked 550 years since the birth of the first Kazakh state in 2015.
The celebrations followed controversial remarks by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who said that Kazakhs had never had a state prior to independence from Moscow.
While Kazakhstan and Russia traditionally enjoy strong relations, their shared history sometimes gets in the way.
Russia criticised a 2019 Kazakh documentary which claimed that the forced collectivisation of the country resulted in genocide, with up to 40 percent of the population either dying in famines or fleeing in the 1930s.
Kazakhstan is Central Asia’s biggest economy, and has in the past seen double-digit growth. But it was hit hard by a 2014 plunge in the price of oil on which it is heavily dependent.
It was also affected by the 2008 economic crisis in Russia, which led to a devaluation of the Kazakh currency, the tenge.
Oil accounted for 21 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2020, according to the World Bank, which predicts the economy will grow by 3.7 percent this year.
The country’s main Tengiz oilfield produces a third of Kazakhstan’s annual output and is 50-percent controlled by US firm Chevron.
The world’s biggest producer of uranium, Kazakhstan also has deposits of manganese, iron, chromium and coal.
Kazakhstan has linked the future of its economy to neighbouring China, investing heavily in its road network, railways and port infrastructure to facilitate trade links.
Stalin’s repression from the 1930s put millions of people in Soviet Gulags.
Northern Kazakhstan hosted numerous camps, including the infamous Karlag, where hundred of thousands of people were sent.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn drew from his experience as a prisoner in Ekibastuz camp to write “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, one of the late dissident writer’s masterpieces.

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