Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected as leader of Central Asia’s largest country in a landslide, months after deadly unrest, preliminary results showed Monday. Independent monitors criticised a lack of real opposition but regional power broker Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Tokayev’s “convincing” win despite a cooling in their personal ties over Ukraine. The 69-year-old, who came to power in 2019, received 81.31 percent of the vote, the oil-rich nation’s electoral commission said. Final results were due to be announced within a week, after a tally of votes from abroad. The outcome came as no surprise as Tokayev’s five opponents were virtually unknown. None scored double digits and 5.8 percent of voters cast their ballot against all candidates. Turnout was just over 69 percent among 12 million eligible voters, election officials said. “The people have clearly expressed their confidence in me and we have to justify it,” Tokayev said as results emerged. The mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) however said the election lacked “competitiveness” and showed the need for legislative reforms. Rich in natural resources and located at the crossroads of important trade routes, Kazakhstan sank into chaos during protests over high living costs in January, which left 238 dead. Tokayev — once a steady hand, if generally considered lacking charisma — showed a ruthless streak earlier this year by violently suppressing protests. While Kazakhstan has stabilised, tensions persist, as shown by the arrest last week of seven opposition supporters accused of an attempted coup. Sunday’s election was a chance for Tokayev to consolidate his grip on power. Hoping to turn over a new leaf after the unrest and tensions over the Ukraine war, Tokayev had said he was seeking a “new mandate of trust”. And after voting early on Sunday in the capital Astana, he said “the main thing is that there is no monopoly of power”. AFP journalists saw voters taking selfies in front of the polling stations in Astana and the economic hub of Almaty. Many said they would be “required” to show the photos when they returned to work on Monday. Tokayev came to power in 2019 after winning 70 percent of the vote in an election whose outcome was inevitable after he obtained the backing of former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev. For the following two-and-a-half years, he played a role of loyal protege. That changed after protests erupted in January and Tokayev ordered law enforcement to “shoot to kill” demonstrators. Tokayev then distanced himself from his former mentor Nazarbayev, purged his clan from positions of authority and promised a “new and just Kazakhstan”. He announced reforms, a constitutional referendum and introduced single presidential terms of seven years but critics are still sidelined. Nazarbayev, who led Kazakhstan for three decades, was the first to congratulate Tokayev on his re-election. It was, he said, “unquestionable proof of the people’s unshakeable faith in (his) reforms”. Nazarbayev praised his attitude “at critical times” for the country, a reference to violence earlier this year. Tokayev this year also stood up to Putin, as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine shocked former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan. The invasion has reawakened Kazakh concerns that Moscow may have ambitions on the north of the country, home to three million ethnic Russians. In response, Tokayev strengthened his country’s ties not only with China, but also with Europe. Putin congratulated Tokayev on his “convincing mandate” and praised the “strategic partnership” and “alliance” between Russia and Kazakhstan. The presidency said Tokayev had also been congratulated by China’s leader Xi Jinping, who was cited as saying that Beijing was ready to “open a new stage of eternal comprehensive strategic partnership” with Astana. The leaders of Turkey and China visited Kazakhstan, as did high-ranking European officials and Pope Francis just this year.