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Kazakhstan's Nazarbaev Wins Landslide In Poll Slammed By Observers

President Nursultan Nazarbaev's supporters greet him (center) as he arrives for a celebration rally at a sports center in Astana on April 4.
President Nursultan Nazarbaev's supporters greet him (center) as he arrives for a celebration rally at a sports center in Astana on April 4.
By RFE/RL
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has secured a new five-year term in office in a weekend election that has been sharply criticized by international monitors.

The Central Election Commission said today that provisional figures show the 70-year-old Nazarbaev taking 95.5 percent of the vote in a poll that drew turnout of nearly 90 percent.

Nazarbayev told supporters that the wide margin of his victory proves his country is "unified -- all the nationalities, peoples, and religions of Kazakhstan."

But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today the poll was marred by "serious irregularities" and that "reforms necessary for holding genuine democratic elections have yet to materialize."

In its preliminary assessment, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cited numerous instances of "seemingly identical signatures on voter lists and several cases of ballot box stuffing" and noted "the vote count and tabulation lacked transparency, and procedures were often not followed." The ODHIR assessment said these were "similar shortcomings as those noted in previous elections."

'Competition Among Friends

Daan Everts, head of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, questioned the nearly 90 percent turnout at polling stations.

"One [example] that struck us on election day was the reports we received from all over the country of what I could call undue pressure on people to vote, which, of course, would explain the spectacularly high turnout," Everts said.

ODIHR also pointed to the lack of genuine competition in the election.

"The legal framework still contains shortcomings that need to be addressed by Kazakhstan's political authorities in order to comply with their OSCE commitments related to freedom of assembly and expression," said Tonino Picula, special coordinator of the OSCE's election observers.

Nazarbaev faced three opponents, none of whom could claim much popular support. All had publicly backed Nazarbaev's continued rule, and their participation was seen as mainly symbolic. One candidate -- environmentalist Mels Eleusizov -- even told journalists as he cast his ballot that he was voting for Nazarbaev.

'Rival' candidate Mels Eleusizov told media that he voted for the incumbent, too.
ODIHR credited Kazakh media for providing "more equality in covering candidates," but omitted mentioning that Nazarbaev said before campaigning started that he would not campaign.

Speaking on election day, ODIHR director Janez Lenarcic said while there were signs Kazakh authorities are making progress in electoral reforms they are not keeping pace with efforts at economic and social reforms.

"Clearly, efforts are being made by the authorities to make further progress in the area of democratic reforms, which currently seem to be lagging somewhat behind the achievements of Kazakhstan in economic and social development," Lenarcic said.

A local nongovernmental organization, the Organization of Young Professionals of Kazakhstan, also said there were irregularities.

Olesya Khalabuzar, chairman of the local nongovernmental Organization of Young Professionals of Kazakhstan, told a press conference in Almaty today that there was widespread evidence of ballot-box stuffing and "carousel" voting, in which bands of people vote multiple times. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported seeing buses that took voters to several polling stations to cast ballots.

Meanwhile, Kazakh authorities said a 53-year-old man in the northern city of Pavlodar was charged with hooliganism after police said he set fire to a Nazarbaev campaign billboard. Officials said 13 criminal cases have been filed in connection with similar vandalism.

Not All Bad Reviews

Kazakh authorities can easily balance such criticism by publicizing the assessments of other organizations that were monitoring the elections.

Observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said in a statement that "despite certain imperfections that invariably mar all elections in any country, the outcome of this vote truly reflects the will of Kazakhstan’s electorate."

Kazakh voters in Petropavl on April 3



CIS election monitors were also present, as they always are at elections inside the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Election-monitoring mission chief Sergei Lebedev told a briefing in Astana that the April 3 election was democratic.

"According to our observations, the voting in the early presidential elections was conducted on a highly organized level, in a free atmosphere," Lebedev said. He said the elections met democratic standards and that the few violations CIS observers noted would not have affected the outcome.

The vote also got a stamp of approval from a delegation from Russia's Central Election Commission.

It said the poll was well organized and that international monitors had the necessary freedom to observe the election. The group's leader, deputy CEC chairman Stanislav Vavilov, said one deficiency was the lack of a sufficient number of workers at polling stations to accommodate the large number of people who turned out to vote.

What's In Store


Election observers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) also said voting went smoothly. OIC Director of the Cabinet Sukru Tufan announced toward the end of election day that OIC monitors "visited very many polling stations, and during our tour of these stations we did not notice any violations. The voting processing was running freely, in a disciplined, transparent and very quiet manner." Tufan said voter participation was "massive."

Kazakhstan takes over as rotating chairman of the OIC later this year.

A victory by Nazarbaev -- who has ruled since Soviet times -- was assured from the moment the snap poll was called nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Opposition parties had called for a boycott, saying the vote was a sham that was certain to result in another term for Nazarbaev,

For those hopeful of change in Kazakhstan, the coming weeks will be far more interesting than the election campaign and election itself.

Nazarbaev has promised changes in the cabinet and in the country. Many are predicting early parliamentary elections this summer and Nazarbaev has hinted that the opposition should get seats in parliament for the first time since 2004.
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Comments
     
by: NN from: Astana
April 04, 2011 19:15
In his book Rakhat Aliev details how the elections were rigged. He says the printing house, Dostyk, prints two sets of ballots. One set is sent to polling stations while the other was distributed to regional akimats. On their way from polling stations to counting centers, ballot boxes were replaced.
Given the fact that neither OSCE nor anybody else monitors the movement of ballot boxes from stations to counting centers, I wonder how much of that story is true.

by: Oilman from: Almaty
April 05, 2011 04:36
When, on Monday morning after the Sunday elections, I asked my cleaning lady if she had voted, she told me that yes, she had.
"Who did you vote for?", I asked.
"Nazarbayev."
"Good grief, why?"
"He's already had the time to steal all he needs, any others would have to start stealing from scratch."
I could see her point but did not argue about the result being a foregone conclusion, and that there had been no way that voting for one of the "opposition" candidates would have led to them winning.
Next I asked her if her children, both adults, had voted. She replied that, no, they hadn't, as they could not be bother to go out. She then went on to recount the following, leaving me stunned:
"I asked if I could vote for my children and was told yes. They gave me two more voting forms and I signed for them."
!!!!!?????!!!!!
Free and fair elections and three votes for the asking! Beats one-man, one-vote. Is this triply democratic!?

by: Andreas Andrianopoulos from: Institute of Diplomacy Gr
April 05, 2011 08:05
My experience as observer at the election was very different from the ones encountererd by representatives of the OSCE and of your commentators. I visited 18 polling stations in Astana where everybody voted orderly without double votes (there were no identical signatures and those who voted were rossed out of the register). There were present representatives of th opposition parties, civic organizations and of the candidates.They were costantly comparing numbers of voters with number of ballots cast. Not even one of them entioned to me, afterI asked tem, that there were anyirregularities. Th votes werenot moved to a "counting place" after the election process was over. They were counted there in the pollong station with many observers (international and local) present. There was of course no televised debate nor any other discussion among candidates. They all however had ample time on radio and tv o promote their positions. If the opposition was inadequate this is mainly due to the fact that other parties decided not to participate in the election. But wheherever you turn and talk with peple you realize why th govnmt and the President are popular. There is prosperity, there is no feeling of widespread corruption and there is an evident economic dynamism.

by: Aftab Kazi from: Washington, DC
April 05, 2011 17:29
My experience with the OSCE commentaries after elections in Central Asian countries is that OSCE policy-k=makers and their observers fail to appreciate the operating levels of political cultures. The Presidential election in Kazakhstan was fine by all standards. I agree with the observer from Greece. Comparatively speaking, OSCE issues similar statements after every election in Uzbekistan, Only during the last Parliamentary elections OSCE did not issue any statement., because the constant criticism of CA countries and their leaders and the gradually evolving democratization processses would have cause a major stalement. Recent criticism of election in Kazakhstan will only contribute to the mistrust against OSCE in those countries. These countries are modernized, most rich and their political systems preserve and value their own sociocultural ethos, which often are perceived in the West as weaknesses. The point is that unnecessary criticism of those countries can have negative consequences in the sense that the entire region, despite deliberate attempts to maintain a good relationship with the West, is also developing geopolinomically with region-based realities inherent in econopmic and political development, trade and transit arrangements, regionally oriented energy and other markets, etc., and that it is not much reliant on the West. Instead, let us appreciate and congratulate President N. Nazarbaev for his vistory and respect the majority people of Kazakhistan who voted for him.

by: Mujo from: USA
April 05, 2011 18:31
"taking 95.5 percent of the vote in a poll that drew turnout of nearly 90 percent"

Really? Oh come on!

Why cheat when you're going to win anyway?

That's the question I have for Nazerbayev, Putin and the rest. Its obvious that Nazerbayev is wildly popular in Kazakhstan, but 95.5% is fantasy. And 90% turned out for an election for which the outcome is known in advance? That's not possible without extreme coercion. Clearly the numbers are the not legitimate results of a democratic election. It defies everything rational that 95% of thinking people support any political candidate. No one is that overwhelmingly popular. Sure Nazerbayev is popular and would have won by a comfortable margin - a margin considered a landslide anywhere in the West.

Which brings me back to my original question: Why did Nazerbayev and his party cheat when they don't need to? Is it a psychological need for affirmation? Is it leftover politics-as-usual from the Soviet days? Is it cultural? Whatever it is, it severely damages Nazarbayev's democratic credentials in the democratic world (where such things should matter) and damages the credibility of Kazakhstan as a democratic country.


by: Brazilian Man from: São Paulo - Brasil
April 05, 2011 23:24
C’mon people, Kazakhstan is a dictatorship commanded by a president-for-life that will pass the power to some heir after his death, as the same way that happened to Duvalier’s Haiti, Kim’s North Korea and Aliyev’s Azerbaijan.

by: Guy Jones from: San Diego, CA
April 11, 2011 18:21
So, Borat wasn't far off the mark. It's almost as bad as the farce of our US "democracy", where whoever the popular vote puts in office is told what to do by corporate lobbyists.

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