Monitoring of social media during the recent Kazakh parliamentary elections showed that while in political exile, the fugitive former head of Kazakhstan’s BTA Bank and opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov is the most popular Kazakh politician on Instagram.
The research, conducted by MEMO 98, a Slovak non-profit specializing in media-monitoring, looked at Kazakh social media from November 2020 through January 2021. The monitoring included 48 different actors – politicians, political parties, media outlets, and official authorities – with accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
There are an estimated 9.5m social media users in Kazakhstan – approximately 51% of the population – 8.3m on Instagram and 1.9m on Facebook. Despite Instagram’s larger audience, we saw higher activity on Facebook pages, with 29,342 posts in the period, compared to 12,287 on Instagram. However, Instagram posts saw more than eight times as many interactions, with more than 11 million engagements to Facebook’s 1.3m.
None of the four other parties registered for the elections represented a real opposition to the ruling Nur-Otan party chaired by the former president Nursultan Nazarbayev that won in the 2021 legislative elections by a landslide. Only two other parties, People’s Party of Kazakhstan and Democratic Party Ak Zhol, passed the seven per cent threshold to enter the parliament. The most active party on Facebook was the ADAL party, with 307 posts, yet, despite its social media activity, the party fell short of the election threshold. Following the call of Mukhtar Ablyazov on his supporters to vote for the Nationwide Social Democratic Party, the latter decided to boycott the elections and generated only 15 posts during the two months leading to the elections. The party getting most attention on Facebook was the People’s Party of Kazakhstan with 53,026 interactions, followed by Auyl People's Democratic Patriotic Party, with 45,281 interactions. Interestingly, while the Democratic Party Ak Zhol generated only 69 posts and 19,090 interactions on Facebook, and 60 posts with 30,489 interactions on Instagram, it succeeded in surpassing the threshold.
While the elections took place against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, this topic was not mentioned prominently by the monitored political parties on Facebook, which focused mainly on elections and social issues. By contrast, Qazaqstan and Khabar, both state-funded TVs, acted as if there were no elections, both putting most of their attention to cultural events linked with public holidays and anniversaries, such as the Day of the First President or the Independence Day. While the Russian-funded Sputnik Kazakhstan adopted a similar approach, Radio Azattyq demonstrated independent editorial policy by providing critical coverage to the authorities.
A different story played out on Instagram, where Nur-Otan was the most active party, with 271 posts, and generating the highest number of interactions (83,363). It was followed by Auyl People's Democratic Patriotic Party which generated 194 posts and received the third biggest amount of interactions (19,683). While not allowed to compete in the elections due to different reasons, opposition politicians, Mukhtar Ablyazov and Zhanbolat Mamai, were the most active on Instagram, generating 301 and 136 posts, respectively. Their posts attracted a lot of interest, with Mukhtar Ablyazov getting as many 799,732 interactions and Mamay Zhanbolat 293,062. Interestingly, while the incumbent Kassym-Jomart Tokayev generated only 5 posts, he received as many as 449,406 interactions.
Unlike in Kyrgyzstan where Facebook made Ad Library available in August 2020, Kazakhstan still has to wait until it is added to the list of countries where this service is available.
In terms of media, Kazinform was by far the most active on Facebook during the monitoring period (4,973 posts), followed by Expres (2,501 posts) and Nur.kz (2,037 posts). Qazaqstan TV was the most popular outlet, with 330,307 interactions, followed by Radio Azattyq (199,362). On Instagram, the official account of Expres was the most prolific (2,363 posts), followed by Channel One Eurasia TV (1,739 posts) and when it comes to interactions, Tenginews.kz received the most (4,129,568), followed by Qazaqstan TV (1,111,499 interactions).
Commenting on the report, Rasťo Kužel of MEMO 98 said: “The research shows that while prevented from participating in elections, some opposition politicians are able to utilize social media, particularly Instagram, to reach out to their supporters. State television channels on Facebook focused more on cultural events than elections while Radio Azattyq provided some independent reporting. We did not see highly professionalized digital operations which are now commonplace in elections over the world.”
The full report can be found here: kazakhstan-report
Press release in pdf: press-release-final-version