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Early Kazakh Election Set For April Amid Opposition Criticism

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev

ALMATY -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has called an early presidential election for April 3, in a decision criticized by some opposition parties, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The announcement came in the state-run media, which carried Nazarbaev's decree on the election date.

The decree was made public after Nazarbaev this week rejected a proposed referendum that might have extended his rule until 2020 and instead called for early elections, nearly two years before his current term ends.

That move was welcomed by the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But in a joint statement on February 4, the Communist Party and nonregistered opposition Algha (Forward) party criticized the decision to hold the election so soon.

At the same time, the two parties also called on the opposition Azat (Free) National Social Democratic party and a number of nongovernmental organizations to agree on a joint opposition presidential candidate.

"Although it is absolutely clear that there will be no possibility for any candidate other than Nursultan Nazarbaev to win in the early elections since no opposition candidate is able to get prepared for the elections in just two months," a single opposition candidate "might become a political figure around whom the most thinking and active part of society could get consolidated," the statement says.

The statement also says that if the opposition does not agree on a single candidate, the early elections should be fully ignored and boycotted by the entire opposition and its supporters.

Despite the call for a joint candidate, several opposition groups said they will put forward their own candidates for the election.

The co-chairman of Azat, Bulat Abilov, told RFE/RL that his party on February 3 decided to nominate him, with a final decision due to be made at the party's congress scheduled for February 11.

Another opposition politician, Zhasaral Quanyshalin, today confirmed to RFE/RL he would run in the upcoming vote.

But Quanyshalin, a former parliament deputy and longtime critic of Nazarbaev, added that he might face some legal obstacles, in the form of two pending libel cases against him over an article he wrote more than four years ago that was critical of Nazarbaev. He described the cases as politically motivated, saying they were filed immediately after he announced in November his intention to run in the presidential election initially scheduled for 2012.

Another figure who announced his candidacy today is Khasen Qozhakhmet, a
Soviet-era dissident and one of the leaders of the Zheltoqsan (December)
movement, named for the December 1986 uprising in then Soviet Kazakhstan.

Qozhakhmet told RFE/RL that if the elections are truly fair, Nazarbaev will get at most 25 percent of the vote.

Presidential adviser Ermukhamed Ertisbaev said on February 4 that opposition groups in the country have no chance to win in the April vote.

The Chairman of the Central Election Commission (OSK), Quandyq Turghanqulov, announced that candidates' registration would begin February 5 and run through February 20.

Nazarbaev, 70, has ruled Kazakhstan since before it gained independence from
the Soviet Union in 1991.

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