efe-epaBy Ignacio Ortega Nur-Sultan

Kazakhstan's newly-elected president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, begins a process of transition in Central Asia's largest economy under the watchful eye of his people, who demand reforms, and world powers who demand a stable investment environment.

In his first press conference after his election victory the previous day, Tokayev on Monday said he rejected the term "transition" and said he considered himself "a full-fledged head of state" and "not a traveling companion."

Tokayev, 66, took over as president in March after Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down after three decades in power.

In a bid to appeal to all political persuasions, Tokayev made it clear during the campaign that he would follow the path charted by Nazarbayev (who retains the title of "elbasy," or leader of the nation), but also introduce reforms that would affect "the entire state system."

"Let's put an end to the word transition, the elections were held, the president was elected," he said after winning Sunday's election with 70.67 percent of the vote, according to the official results.

Tokayev now has the task of guaranteeing political stability and investment security, while at the same time meeting the Kazakhs growing demands for change.

China and Russia, the oil-and-minerals-rich country's main trading partners, and Western investors were betting on a Tokayev victory, but at the same time suggest that the country should introduce economic reforms to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbon exports.

Tokayev, who has already said that Kazakhstan's foreign policy will not change, nevertheless has internal challenges to deal with.

A large part of the population, especially young Kazakhs, say that the resignation of Nazarbayev is an opportunity for the country to open a process of democratization towards a more just society.

Public expressions of discontent were more apparent during the campaign and on election day.

Some 500 protesters calling for a boycott of the elections in the capital Nur-Sultan and Almaty were arrested by riot police.

Tokayev said some citizens "behaved in an unseemly manner and provoked the police officers, who took measures."

He said he believed the Kazakhs who participated in the Sunday protests were motivated by certain influences from abroad that put the safety of their fellow citizens in danger.

According to the president-elect, three police officers suffered injuries and had to be hospitalized.

He urged demonstrators to establish a dialogue with authorities. "My position from the beginning is that different opinions can coexist, but the nation is unique, different opinions, but a united nation."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that "massive arrests of peaceful demonstrators in the streets, including journalists, violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly and expression."

OSCE observers also said there were "significant irregularities," such as ballot stuffing, during the elections.

In any case, the push to satisfy demands for social justice cannot be postponed, Amirzhan Kosanov, journalist and the only real opposition presidential candidate, told Efe.

"If Tokayev does not bet on reforms, the pressure cooker could explode," said Kosanov, who came second with 16.2 percent of the vote, well ahead of Daniya Yespayeva, the first woman in the republic's history to run for the presidency, who garnered 5.2 percent.

Yespayeva said the mere fact that a woman could run for the top office signified a huge step forward for the ultraconservative society.

Despite criticism from OSCE observers, Tokayev said the election was fair and open.

Tokayev played down the OSCE report and suggested that other observer missions had a more favorable assessment.

"Seven candidates participated on equal terms, and for my part, as president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, all measures were taken to ensure that these elections were conducted in a fair, open and honest manner," he said.

Former European Commissioner and current President of the Eurasian Council for Foreign Affairs, Austria's Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said Monday in Madrid she was confident Tokayev would "continue working with the European Union and even improve relations," which began with the first partnership agreement with Kazakhstan in 2009.

The parties signed an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 2016. EFE-EPA

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