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Kazakhstan: Astana Seeks OSCE Rotating Chairmanship In 2009

  • Bruce Pannier --> (RFE/RL) Kazakhstan is seeking the Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) rotating chairmanship in 2009. There is international backing for the Kazakh bid, but a stumbling block remains -- Kazakhstan's December presidential election. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) monitors have never assessed any Kazakh election as being free and fair, but OSCE officials have made clear that this December's election must be so. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been active, ordering officials to make this poll conform to OSCE standards. But old habits die hard, and complaints of bias and interference are already present in the presidential campaign.

Prague, 3 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The idea of Kazakhstan, an Asian
country, holding the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE might seem
strange to some.

But Alex Vatanka, the chief editor of
the London-based "Jane's CIS Risk Assessment," provided some reasons
why both parties might be interested in seeing Kazakhstan chair the

"The president [Nazarbaev] has been talking about
Kazakhstan's desire to be not just an active participant of the OSCE
but also [to] be a bit more involved leading the organization forward,"
Vatanka said. "And I say this bearing in mind that the OSCE mandate has
been pushed eastwards. The OSCE is operating now essentially on the
borders of China, which is a totally new mandate for them."

President Nazarbaev does seem obsessed with the issue, and he rarely fails to mention it at public functions.

has been the case previously, cooperation with the OSCE across a
spectrum of issues is important for our country," Nazarbaev said. "We
treat seriously all the responsibility of the nomination of our
candidacy for the chairmanship of this organization in 2009."

his administration, and now his campaign team bill the OSCE
chairmanship as helping signal Kazakhstan's importance in the world
community. They view their hoped-for admission to the World Trade
Organization (WTO) in 2006 in a similar light.

bid for the OSCE chairmanship has already received support from many
quarters, including officials from Western and Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union. Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton mentioned
it during a trip to Kazakhstan in September to raise funds for victims
of Hurricane Katrina. Clinton praised Nazarbaev's intentions to improve
social and political life in Kazakhstan.

"I believe it
will be quite influential in what I hope will be a successful bid that
Kazakhstan is making to be the leader of the OSCE in 2009," Clinton
added. "I think it's time for that to happen. It's an important step
and I'm glad you're willing to undertake that."

All that remains is for Kazakhstan to demonstrate it is ready to assume such a duty.

a July meeting of the EU-Kazakhstan Cooperation Council, the European
Commission released a statement that said that "any country stating its
intention to take the chair of the OSCE should represent an example of
compliance with the principles of this organization."

understands this and has taken measures to make the campaign and the
election meet OSCE standards. In September, he issued a decree ordering
all election officials, media, and anyone else connected with
presidential elections and campaigning to ensure presidential elections
were free, fair, and transparent.

Election monitors from
the ODIHR have assessed all of Kazakhstan's previous elections --
presidential and parliamentary -- as falling short of meeting
international democratic standards.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, ODIHR spokesman, said the decree is a hopeful sign but that actions need to follow these good intentions.

decree, if it is properly implemented, is definitely a positive step,
but the implementation, as with any other legislation is the key,"
Gunnarsdottir said. "So we will only see when we reach election day
whether this has had an effect."

Some of Nazarbaev's opponents, their campaign teams, and independent media see few signs of Nazarbaev's decree taking effect.

editors of opposition newspapers declared a hunger strike in late
October when their printing house refused to print their newspapers. A
new printing house was found the next day, solving the problem and
ending the hunger strikes.

But the opposition website was shut down under a new government regulation in late
October. The OSCE criticized that move days later. Today, all copies of
the opposition newspaper "Zhuma-Times" were confiscated at the printing

The campaign headquarters of the Ak Zhol party
candidate Alikhan Baimenov complained in October that some privately
owned television stations were violating the law by not allowing
candidates access to airtime.

Just after campaigning
officially started in late October, 1 million campaign leaflets of For
A Just Kazakhstan candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai were burned or stolen.

week, the daughter of a For A Just Kazakhstan campaign official went
missing. Officials within the movement suggested government involvement
in the disappearance. The Prosecutor-General's Office said today that
it had no information about the case.

Kazakhstan's presidential elections are held on 4 December; the OSCE makes its decision on the 2009 chairmanship next year.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakhs Service contributed to this report.)