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Kazakhstan: OSCE Urges Postponement Of Presidential Election

By Merhat Sharipzhan and Michael Gallant

Prague, 7 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called on Kazakhstan to postpone presidential elections set for next month to allow more time to prepare for a democratic poll.

The group said in a statement issued late Thursday (Dec. 3) in Vienna that it would not fully recognize results from the poll, which parliament in October brought forward from 2000. The parliament also removed restrictions on the number of terms a president can serve. Opposition candidates say the early election has given them little time to prepare election campaigns to challenge incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The OSCE also said Kazakhstan's refusal to register two opposition candidates because of what it called "minor administrative concerns" raises "serious doubts whether a fairly contested election is possible." One of the banned candidates, former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was considered by many to be the most serious challenger to Nazarbayev.

The United States, Western human rights groups and Kazakh opposition parties have criticized Nazarbayev for bringing the election forward, but government officials have defended the election process.

Asylbeck Bisenbayev, Nazarbayev's press secretary, is quoted today by Reuters saying that the election process "is a normal process resulting from the decision by parliament (to bring the vote forward)." Bisenbayev said that several candidates representing "different movements, from communists to liberals, have been registered."

The Kazakh Central Election Commission says three candidates, Communist Party First Secretary Serikbolsyn Abdildin, customs committee chief Gani Kaymov, and parliamentary deputy Engels Gabbasov, are registered to run against Nazarbayev. But early Kazakh opinion polls suggest they have little support.

Earlier this week, Nazarbayev rejected criticism that the early poll will favor him. He said Kazakhstan had created the proper conditions for fair and open elections, and that he favored a more gradual transition to complete democracy.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kassymzhomart Tokaev told OSCE ministers in a closed door session in Oslo yesterday (Dec. 3) that there had been what he called "voluntary or involuntary confusion of the election legislation" and how it is being carried out. He did not elaborate.

Tokaev also said that Kazakhstan plans to closely cooperate with the OSCE and other international political institutions on the further democratization of election legislation relating to the mass media, state government and non-governmental organizations.

Kazhegeldin was banned from running in next month's poll after participating in meeting of opposition figures held just days after parliament decided to move the elections forward. He made a speech at the meeting in which he called on Kazakhs to make the January elections truly fair.

That same week, Kazakh authorities arrested a number of the gathering's participants. A district Court tried them on October 7 and convicted them of participating in a gathering of an unregistered organization. Kazhegeldin also was charged, but he wasn't in the country when the court summons was issued. He was tried and convicted in absentia.

Kazakh law forbids anyone convicted of violating laws or regulations from running for president. Kazakhstan's Central Elections Committee announced on November 13 that Kazhegeldin would be barred from running under that provision.

Nazarbayev ordered the Supreme Court to review Kazhegeldin's disqualification, but the court upheld the ruling on Nov. 24. A presidential statement said Nazarbayev's order to review the ruling proved his commitment to democracy. Kazhegeldin, in an interview with RFE/RL before the court upheld his disqualification, disagreed:

"I do not think that it is good news. It means that our Supreme Court is not independent and fully obeys only one person, who decides to, or not to, judge.... Any court must obey laws only and be afraid only of God...."

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) also sent a mission to Kazakhstan last month to assess the campaign process. Yesterday's OSCE statement said the ODIHR is not prepared to launch a full election observation mission in Kazakhstan under what it called the "present circumstances." The OSCE said it would send a "limited" mission to observe the poll.

Rainer Hermann, the OSCE election project coordinator in Central Asia, said OSCE officials had met government representatives, non-governmental groups and the media during last month's trip. He said the overwhelming impression was that people were being intimidated into supporting Nazarbayev.

RFE/RL correspondents reported earlier in the week from Almaty that one of the former candidates, former dissident Karishal Assanov, announced last Sunday that he was stepping down from the race. Assanov told RFE/RL he made the decision in order not to be responsible for what he called the "farce" being organized in the country. In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Assanov said:

"I think that the parliament's decision to hold early presidential elections wasn't based on any social necessity. It was scripted by the government of Kazakhstan, which has to start repaying several years of loans to international organizations beginning in mid-1999."

Assanov said the economic and social situation will be much worse in Kazakhstan by that time. He said it is clear that if presidential elections were held in December 2000, as was scheduled, the current leadership would have much poorer chances of winning.