Astana (Kazakhstan) (AFP) - Projected results showed energy-rich Kazakhstan's ruling party claiming a comfortable win in early parliamentary polls on Sunday that never threatened to trouble autocrat President Nursultan Nazarbayev's long reign.
An exit poll conducted by the local Institute of Democracy research group put Nazarbayev's ruling Nur Otan on 82 percent, meaning it will dominate a parliament likely to contain two other parties.
The vote came as the ex-Soviet country sees its once-booming economy slump on the back of falling oil prices and an economic crisis in northern neighbour Russia, but Nazarbayev's grip on power appears as firm as ever.
The 75-year-old strongman -- who has ruled Kazakhstan virtually unopposed since before its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 -- was elected to a new five-year term last year with 98 percent of the vote.
After casting his vote in the capital Astana on Sunday morning, Nazarbayev -- who has maintained close ties with ex-Soviet master Russia -- called on other countries "not to rush" Kazakhstan on its journey toward democracy.
"This is Asia," he said. "We have different relationships -- family relationships, a different religion and different opportunities between people."
Polling stations closed across the vast country at 1500 GMT in a ballot featuring six parties mostly supportive of Nazarbayev.
The Central Election Commission (CEC) claimed a 77.1 percent turnout Sunday, which Commission chair Kuandyk Turgankulov declared a record for parliamentary votes in the country.
- 'Zombie parties' -
If CEC totals match the exit poll Nur Otan will share parliament with the Communist People's Party and Ak Zhol, firmly pro-government factions from the previous legislature that secured just over 7 percent of the vote each according to the exit poll.
Agrarian party Auyl, pro-green Birlik and the lone opposition National Social Democratic Party (NSDP) fell short of the seven percent threshold, gathering just over 3.5 percent of the vote between them.
Analysts say all the parties that competed lacked coherent ideologies or manifestos, and exist to provide democratic window-dressing in the authoritarian republic.
"I see no forces in the country that can mobilise people and promote their interests," Nargis Kassenova, director of the Central Asian Studies Center at the KIMEP University in Almaty, told AFP.
"The political space has been purged."
Dosym Satpayev, Director of the Risk Assessment Group based in the country's largest city Almaty said the competing parties were "Zombie parties."
"They take up space and make announcements, but principally do not have any particular sort of platform," Satpayev told AFP.
Many citizens forming lines out of polling stations in Astana and Almaty cited "civic duty" as a reason to vote and admitted to a lack of choice.
"Nowadays everyone wants to be in the parliament, but with every year I see it is unlikely these [parliamentarians] will help us pensioners," said Galina Andrieva, an 80-year-old pensioner living in Almaty.
"In communist times elections were honest, but now I am not so sure."
Campaigning in a bleak environment, Nur Otan emphasised past government achievements while endorsing present state policies under the motto "Unity! Stability! Creativity!"
Sunday's early polls came after Nazarbayev brought forward the presidential vote last year, with analysts saying he was keen to get elections over with in case the economic situation worsened.
Nazarbayev, who has not confirmed he will run for office when his term ends in 2020, said Sunday he did not anticipate major changes to the government after the vote.
The veteran ruler has not named a successor and observers are watching government appointments for any indications they might give of a potential heir emerging.