Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev on Monday extended his rule over the oil-rich Central Asian nation for a third decade with a 95 percent win in elections that observers said "should have been better."
The snap poll was reportedly boycotted by the main opposition and watched closely by Western embassies after the recent uprisings against veteran leaders of other Muslim countries in the Arab world.
"International observers ... noted that reforms necessary for holding genuine democratic elections have yet to materialize," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement, Reuters reported.
The first official results from the Central Election Commission showed Nazarbayev, who is 70 and has ruled Kazakhstan since before the collapse of the Soviet Union, won 95.5 percent of the vote on a turnout of 89.9 percent — beating his performance in his last re-election in 2005.
The observers reported "serious irregularities, including numerous instances of seemingly identical signatures on voter lists and cases of ballot box stuffing," an OSCE statement said, Agence France-Presse reported.
There were also reports of people being pressured to vote, and government officials were seen intimidating voters in universities, hospitals and military bases, the Associated Press reported.
Ambassador Daan Everts, head of the long-term election observation mission deployed by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said the polls fell short of "genuine democratic" standards.
"Regrettably we have to conclude that this election could and should have been better," Everts told a news briefing in Astana, the Kazakh capital. "It showed the urgency of implementing the long-awaited reforms ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections."
The win prolongs the uncertainty over who will one day succeed Nazarbayev, who according to AFP told a meeting of supporters that the margin of his victory proved his country was impregnable to the unrest now hitting other Muslim regions.
"Of course this is a sensation for Western states," Nazarbayev told hundreds of flag-waving supporters. "If the world sees bloodshed and ethnic discord, we are unified — all the nationalities, peoples and religions of Kazakhstan."
Kazakhstan has profited despite a system of effective one-party rule, in which all political and economic decisions are made by Nazarbayev and his hand-picked ministers and advisers.
State propaganda and rising income levels have assured Nazarbayev a high degree of popularity over the years, according to the AP.
Annual growth of 8.5 percent is attributed to a decade of business-friendly policies, and has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the lives of the country's 16.4 million people.
In an op-ed piece published last week in The Washington Post, Nazarbayev argued that economic prosperity should come before democracy, and declared his country an excellent example of how this could be accomplished.
— Freya Petersen