Kazakhstan's Election Drives Social Media Interest, Survey Shows

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan, May 8, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The presidential election on June 9 is generating a lot of interest on social media in the country, Kazakhstan's National Press Club has found. Out of its population of 18 million, more than two-thirds of Kazakhs have access to the internet, especially on their mobile phones. With young voters increasingly active on social media, this is expected to be Kazakhstan's most open and free poll since independence in 1991.

According to the media survey conducted by the National Press Club, YouTube is viewed 12 million times a day in Kazakhstan, Instagram has 1.7 million users, while Facebook has 450,000 users. Younger voters prefer YouTube with its videos and entertainment factor, while older voters and professionals seem to prefer Facebook.

"My friends and I follow several online groups to get an idea of their political views," said 18-year old Marat, a new voter. "This is all very exciting."

The government has encouraged this openness on social media. Unlike some Asian countries where negative posts are censored, in Kazakhstan there is a free airing of views on all sides of the political debate. Several YouTube and Facebook groups have sprung up in support of and against the different candidates. A few political protests have also been organised by activists, largely for the benefit of social media.

"We were at Gorky Park for a family outing last week when a group of people showed up with placards," said Almaty resident Aliya. "A few youngsters were recording it on their cellphones, probably for Facebook."

Among the seven candidates standing for election, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is leading the way with 376,000 followers on Instagram and 121,000 followers on Twitter. His supporters Toqayev Team are also active on YouTube and Facebook.

Other candidates are not so popular: opposition politician Amirzhan Kossanov has 21,314 followers on Facebook, Toleutai Rakhimbekov has 4,996 friends; Amandeldy Taspikhov is a candidate of the Federation of Trade Unions, which has 2,000 Facebook members; while communist candidate Zhambyl Ahmetbekov has a mere 1,668 followers.

With social media becoming the best way to connect with young Kazakhs, the country's institutions are following suit. Most of the ministries and government departments have an active presence on Twitter and Facebook.

President Tokayev met with regional akims (mayors) in March and called for greater interaction of local authorities with the public. "It is very important for us to know and respond to the social well-being of ordinary people in time. This is always our priority," he said. "The akim needs to quickly respond to public inquiries... ensuring maximum coverage, openness and responsiveness."

Social media groups have sprouted in the cities to cater to local residents: Shymkent's Instagram account has 900,000 followers, Astana's Facebook page has 70,793 followers, while Kyzylorda has 21,892.

The increasing transparency on social media bodes well for Kazakhstan. Strategically placed between Russia and China, the vibrancy of its social media is now setting new standards in Central Asia and the wider region.

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SOURCE National Press Club, Kazakhstan