20 September 2004 -- With around one-fifth of the votes counted, Nazarbaev's Otan (Fatherland) party is leading with nearly 43 percent of the vote.
Otan, which is backing Nazarbaev for reelection in 2006, is the country's largest party. It already holds a majority of seats in both houses of the legislature.
Otan is followed by the Asar (All Together) party, led by the president's daughter and media tycoon, Dariga Nazarbaeva. Preliminary results show Asar taking about 20 percent of the vote.
"I am confident that the citizens of Kazakhstan will vote for stability in the country and not for empty slogans and promises of 'golden mountains' that will never materialize." -- President Nursultan Nazarbaev
Ak Zhol (White Path), a splinter group of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (KDT), is in third place, with about 16 percent of the votes. Ak Zhol is formally an opposition group, but has avoided direct confrontation with the government since its creation two years ago. One of its co-chairmen, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, was appointed information minister last July.
With more than 8 percent of the vote, AIST -- a bloc formed by the pro-government Agrarian and Civic parties -- is likely to be the only other group to overcome the 7-percent threshold required to enter the 77-seat parliament.
A union of Kazakhstan's only two radical opposition parties, the KDT and the Communist Party, garnered only 6 percent of the vote.
The OSCE, which had over 300 observers monitor the election, said the vote fell short of democratic standards.
"The 19 September parliamentary [polls] in Kazakhstan fell short of OSCE and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections," said OSCE election mission coordinator Ihor Ostash, speaking today in Astana. "A lack of transparency while taking important decisions regarding the conduct of the elections was evident. Moreover, these decisions were not communicated in a timely and effective manner. However, we did note some improvements from previous elections. The OSCE-ODHIR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] and Kazakhstan have been in close contact since 2000 on changes to the election code, which have resulted in improved legislation."
The OSCE, on its website, also said it was concerned at the lack of political balance in election commissions and "evident media bias in favor of the pro-presidential parties."
Ak Zhol's co-chairman Sarsenbaev today told reporters he had asked Nazarbaev to dismiss him as information minister as of a way of protesting what he claimed was an "unfair" election.
"With my stepping down, I want to show our fellow citizens that we do not see the posts and duties we hold as a major value. The major value for us is our service [to the nation], our being just and honest. This is why I would like to prove that it is possible for the society and for citizens of Kazakhstan to implement such honest and pure principles even today," Sarsenbaev said.
In the run-up to the polls, opposition parties had accused the authorities of threatening to fire civil servants who did not support pro-government candidates. They had also raised concerns over electronic voting -- used as a test in 18 percent of Kazakhstan's polling stations -- saying it would make it easier for votes to be manipulated.
Already on 19 September, Nazarbaev had expressed confidence in victory and called upon voters to disregard opposition voices.
"I am confident that the citizens of Kazakhstan will vote for stability in the country and not for empty slogans and promises of 'golden mountains' that will never materialize," Nazarbaev said.
CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, who led a mission of former Soviet election observers, gave the vote a clean bill of health despite what he called minor irregularities.
"The CIS election observers believe the legislative elections were generally well organized. The shortcomings that have already been noted during the run-up to the polls, the election campaign, and the voting itself did not substantially affect the free choice of the voters. Neither did they affect the result of the polls," Rushailo said.
Also today, Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission chairwoman Zagipa Balieva praised the polls, saying they were "brilliantly held."
Yet, media bias in favor of the ruling parties remain a major concern for international observers and opposition leaders.
The president's daughter is the head of Khabar, the country's largest media holding company. Together with her husband, Rahat Aliev, she also controls several leading newspapers, TV channels, radio stations, and an advertising agency.
Many in Kazakhstan believe the 40-year-old Nazarbaeva looks set to succeed her father in two years' time. But she has denied any such plans.
While voting yesterday, she said it would be wrong to believe her 64-year-old father would relinquish plans to seek a new term in 2006.
"I consider these rumors as being just one of today's [political tricks]. To talk today of any other candidate [from the ruling party] that the serving president would be, to say the least, naive," Nazarbaeva said.
Nazarbaev has been in power since 1989, first as leader of the local Communist Party, then as president of newly independent Kazakhstan. He has already extended his term of office through a controversial referendum and announced plans to run again for president in 2006.
Nazarbaev is widely criticized at home and abroad for his authoritarian rule and for allegedly encouraging rampant corruption. But his supporters dismiss the critics, citing Nazarbaev's ability to ensure political stability and Kazakhstan's oil-based rapid economic development.