Kazakhs meet opposition

Kazakhs meet opposition

ASTANA
Kazakhs meet opposition

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev (2nd L) sings with Nur Otan party activists in the party’s headquarters in Astana yesterday. Nazarbayev made a midnight visit to Nur Otan’s office to congratulate the party’s victory at parliamentary elections. REUTERS photo

The ruling party of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was declared the landslide winner yesterday, receiving above 80 percent of the votes of snap polls in which two nominally-opposition groups won Parliament seats for the first time, ending the total control once held by the president’s party.

Dec. 15’s vote had been called early to breathe new life into a system under which the 71-year-old leader put economic prosperity before political freedoms and ensured that his Nur Otan party dominated most aspects of daily life. But the polls were largely overshadowed by last year’s December clashes between striking oil workers and security forces that killed 16 people in the Central Asian state’s worst bloodshed since the Soviet Union’s fall.

The outcome nevertheless had never been in serious doubt, and early results had Nazarbayev’s party winning 80.74 percent of the vote. Nur Otan will be joined in Parliament by the pro-business Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party, which garnered 7.46 percent of the vote, and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, a largely pro-government group that won 7.2 percent.

None of the other four parties contesting the poll in the resource-rich nation broke through the 7 percent threshold and will remain shut out of Parliament. Despite the low-key campaigning season and the exclusion of two populist parties, official figures indicated a healthy turnout of around 75 percent nationwide.

OSCE: Polls fail to meet democratic principles

Nazarbayev, 71, hailed his party’s victory as a sign of national unity one month after protests by sacked oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen.

“Someone or other wanted to turn this to their advantage, to use the Zhanaozen events for political gain,” Nazarbayev said. “Residents of Zhanaozen gave their answer: Nearly 70 percent voted for Nur Otan,” he said. “This means that the people of Kazakhstan will continue supporting our course of stability and unity.”

Nazarbayev said the polls were “unprecedented in their transparency, openness and honesty.” Western monitors have never before recognized a Kazakh ballot as free or fair, an issue that has irritated Nazarbayev’s advisers as they position the region’s largest economy toward future growth.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said yesterday that Kazakhstan’s tightly controlled parliamentary election fell short of its democratic promise by limiting the number of genuine opposition parties and restricting citizens’ rights.

OSCE’s election observation mission said several parties had been blocked from the election and public debate was limited in the run-up to the vote. “If Kazakhstan is serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in Parliament, then the country should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate,” said Joao Soares, leader of the short-term mission and head of the delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

Kazakhistan, democracy, election, unrest, OSCE