Twelve Kazakh parties are sponsoring candidates, with nine of these broadly regarded as pro-government. The two leading parties appear to be President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Otan party and Asar, led by his daughter Darigha. Ak Zhol, considered the leading opposition party, is expected to take third.
Observers say the run-up to the vote has been marred by many of the same irregularities seen in previous Kazakh elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said in a report this week that the two leading parties dominated campaign advertising. The OSCE said, "Otan and Asar continue to dominate the scene in terms of billboards and posters, occupying almost all the sites in cities around the country."
This complaint was seconded by Ak Zhol. Speaking to RFE/RL, party co-Chairman Uraz Zhandosov said: "You see that except for the billboards of Otan, Asar and the AIST [the bloc formed by the Agrarian and Civic parties], and candidates supported by them, there are practically no [other] billboards. The same situation, with maybe some rare exceptions, exists all over the country."
"Have these elections really been fair and corresponded to the law? We think that they have not been."
The OSCE, in its report, also raised the controversial issue of electronic voting. This is the first time voters in some districts will be casting votes electronically -- and observers say they fear the potential for widespread fraud if proper guarantees are not in place.
Anywhere from 2 to 30 percent of the country's 8.5 million registered voters will vote electronically, but the OSCE said as of last week it was still not clear which polling stations will use the electronic voting system. In its report, the OSCE criticized preparation for the vote, noting that a state commission on electronic voting -- required by law -- had not yet been formed.
An Ak Zhol co-chairman, Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev, said he was speaking for all three leading opposition parties in saying he did not believe the election has been fair so far. "Have these elections really been fair and corresponded to the law? We think that they have not been," he said. "All three [opposition] parties think this way. We consider the pre-election campaign as having been conducted according to low standards. The fact that they still haven't decided if the electronic system of voting will be used causes even more doubt."
Kazakh voters will face an unusual challenge in the voting booths: many parties and candidates have similar names. The leader of the Ak Zhol party, Uraz Zhandosov, for example, is running against Vladimir Zhandosov in the same voting district. Opposition candidate Zhannat Ertlesova is running against Zhanat Erlepesova in her district. It's not clear if the similarities are coincidental. Recent elections in Russia have also featured these doubles. Parties are accusing their rivals of intentionally trying to confuse the voters.
Run-offs are widely expected in many districts. Parties will have to clear a 7 percent hurdle to make it into parliament.
(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)For all the info on the candidates and parties in the upcoming Kazakh elections, see RFE/RL's web page:"Kazakhstan Votes 2004".