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Presidential Picks To Dominate Kazakh Senate Elections

  • Bruce Pannier

Nazarbaev's domination of Kazakh politics is set to continue, or increase.

Kazakhstan's indirect Senate elections are likely to flood parliament's upper house with more supporters of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and unlikely to persuade anyone outside his clannish base of the country's democratic credentials.

With only local and provincial officials able to cast ballots, ordinary Kazakhs must wait for the media to tell them who won the voting on October 4 -- a situation that has led to growing public apathy.

"Society and political forces will not participate in this election and probably for that reason there is no special interest on the part of society and the people in these elections," says Borikhan Nurmukhamedov, director of the National Research Institute.

But this time, the Senate elections offer Kazakhstan an opportunity to demonstrate it is moving in a direction that puts the country more in line with the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which Kazakhstan is set to head in 2010. It appears Kazakhstan will not seize this opportunity.

Kazakhstan's Senate race has not generated much excitement in the past. The 47 senators are elected to six-year terms. The president picks 15 senators; the remaining 32 are chosen through this election. There are elections for half the Senate seats every three years, so only 16 senators will be elected on October 4.

This time, hopes were raised that one or more token opposition representatives might finally be among the chosen. Those hopes were based on a perceived interest for Kazakhstan to demonstrate some democratic improvement to the international community, something many feel is sorely needed after elections to the lower house of parliament in 2007 that saw the ruling Nur-Otan party, one of seven parties competing, win all 98 seats up for grabs.

Nazarbaev said earlier this year that parliament should have deputies from more than one party, which some interpreted as possibly signaling early elections to the lower house. Nazarbaev later ruled out early elections but some reports suggested that there was still a possibility that some opposition members could be placed in the Senate.

Nurmukhamedov of the National Research Institute tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the authorities have become so monolithic that some would see anything less than total domination by Nur-Otan as an indication of internal dissent.

"All indications are that only the candidates forwarded by the Nur-Otan party [will win]," he says. "If any of them are not elected and some other candidates are elected, this would say [to everyone] that there is a serious crisis within the Nur-Otan party."

Kazakhstan held elections to the lower house just a few months before the OSCE made its decision on the organization's rotating chairman for 2009, 2010, and 2011. Kazakhstan was bidding to receive the chairmanship in 2009, but had to settle for taking it in 2010 due to concerns about the country's record on democratic reform and human rights.

The OSCE's stated hope was that the extra year would give Kazakhstan time to address those concerns. But in these Senate polls, Kazakhstan appears unlikely to seize its chance.

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Director Edige Magauin contributed to this report

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