The hand-picked successor of Kazakhstan’s long-time ruler has won a sweeping victory in a presidential election, authorities said on Monday, after a voting day marred by protests and arrests. But foreign election monitors insisted the vote showed little respect for democracy. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took 70.8 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s election, the Central Election Commission said, with his nearest rival, opposition candidate Amirzhan Kosanov, taking 16.2 per cent. Tokayev’s victory was never in doubt after he received the blessing of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led the Central Asian nation for three decades before his shock resignation in March. But the vote Sunday was marked by the biggest protests the Muslim-majority country has seen in at least three years, as demonstrators urged a boycott of what they said was a fixed election. The interior ministry said about 500 people were arrested on Sunday, with deputy minister Marat Kozhayev blaming “radical elements” for holding “unsanctioned” rallies. Activists denounced the arrests and there were claims of ballot stuffing, but Tokayev insisted the election had been “a competition”. “This shows that our level of political culture has seriously increased. There is much work ahead,” he said in comments broadcast on Monday on state television. Authorities said they would investigate all allegations of vote violations. As Kazakhstan heads to the polls, new boss looks a bit like old boss No vote in Kazakhstan has ever been recognised as fully democratic by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more than 300 observers to monitor the election. In a statement, the OSCE said: “A lack of regard for fundamental rights, including detentions of peaceful protesters, and widespread voting irregularities on election day, showed scant respect for democratic standards.” Tokayev’s opponents were quick to congratulate him, including second-place finisher Kosanov, a journalist who positioned himself as the ballot’s sole opposition candidate. “This political transition will take place with the participation of the people,” Kosanov said, criticising “foreign-based” opposition figures who encouraged voters to boycott the poll. “People are ready for an equal dialogue with authorities,” he said. Kosanov previously said if the count was fair the result would go to a second round. Toleutay Rakhimbekov, a career government official who ran on a rural issues campaign for the Aul (Village) party, said the result was “proof of the population of Kazakhstan’s trust and confidence in (Tokayev’s) rule”. Third place was claimed by Daniya Yespayeva, the first woman candidate in a Kazakh presidential election, who scored 5.2 per cent of the ballot according to the CEC. Sunday’s protests took place in the capital Nur-Sultan, renamed after Nazarbayev following his resignation, and largest city Almaty. Several hundred rallied in Almaty before police moved in to detain protesters. Journalists, including two from AFP and reporters for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, were briefly detained in Almaty. About 50 more people were arrested on Monday as they tried to gather again in the central Almaty square where Sunday’s protests took place. Marzhan Aspandiyarova, a civic activist who visited police stations in Almaty on Sunday and Monday, said snap trials were underway to convict and sentence the protesters. “Relatives are trying to get more information but it is difficult because the detained had their telephones confiscated.” Nazarbayev’s announcement in March that he was stepping down from the presidency and naming Tokayev interim leader shocked Kazakhs who had lived under his rule since Soviet times. But some argue the 78-year-old, who turned the country of 18 million people into an energy powerhouse while governing with little tolerance for opposition, will still call the shots from behind the scenes.