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Kazakhstan: U.S. Urges Nazarbaev To Honor Election Commitments

President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo) (CTK) A high-ranking U.S. State Department official has urged Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev to seize the opportunity to hold credible presidential elections. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza told a panel on 17 November that legitimate elections next month would elevate the U.S.-Kazakhstan partnership.

Washington, 18 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Matthew Bryza says Washington is hoping Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will follow through on pledges to permit transparent, fair presidential elections on 4 December.

Bryza said holding of credible elections provides an opportunity to ensure long-term stability in Kazakhstan.

"Our grand, tectonic-style hope for Kazakhstan is that it will emerge from this election and then [after] subsequent months, years, of political reform move toward the chairmanship of the OSCE -- the aspiration of Kazakhstan is 2009 -- and really elevate Kazakhstan as the Central Asian leader on democratic reform to match its leadership on security cooperation, particularly non-proliferation, and energy," Bryza said.

Bryza spoke at a panel discussion on the Kazakh elections sponsored by the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based policy center.

His comments follow a call by the European Union last week for Kazakhstan to let opposition candidates and the media operate freely in the run-up to the vote. EU officials expressed concern about attacks on opposition parties and journalists.

In the latest complaint, Kazakhstan's opposition coalition For a Just Kazakhstan on 17 November alleged that police beat two nephews of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, co-chairman of the opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol party.

Poor Record

The OSCE has never assessed any Kazakh election as being free and fair. Bryza referred to a recent visit to Kazakhstan by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which said there is need for further progress in electoral reforms.

"There are some areas where there is still a lot of focus, concern about the extent to which the various opposition leaders have a chance to get access to television as much as they think they need, questions about the extent to which newspapers are being able to publish the views of the opposition leaders -- questions I'm saying, these are some of the questions we need to keep asking ourselves – there are concerns raised about whether or not there is harassment of opposition candidates when they are on the campaign [trail]. We need to look into that, we will continue to look into that," he said.

Bryza accompanied U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her meeting last month with Nazarbaev in Kazakhstan. He described the Kazakh president as "convincing" when he talks about democratic reforms in Kazakhstan.

Bryza stressed that a proper election requires the environment before and after polling to be "conducive to a greater opening of political freedom."

"I can't tell you standing here today whether things have gone far enough because it's not for me to determine," he said. "We will see based on the reaction of the people of Kazakhstan, based on the assessment of ODIHR and the OSCE as to whether or not these elections have lived up to international standards and our strong hope is that the answer will be 'yes.'"

OSCE Chairmanship?

The panelists suggested that Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 -- which must be decided by the organization next year -- could help limit the electoral abuses. Coincidentally, the polls take place next month during the annual ministerial meeting of the OSCE in Slovenia.

Panelist Vlad Socor, a Eurasian expert for the Jamestown Foundation, said for Kazakhstan, it would be a matter of national honor to chair the OSCE.

"It would validate the view that Kazakhstan is not just an Asian state but a Eurasian state and in some ways a link between East and West despite its eastern geographical location," Socor said. "So for Kazakhstan I think the prospect of the OSCE chairmanship even before it comes to pass is a great incentive for continuing democratic evolution."

Nazarbaev, who is traveling in Ukraine, declined to participate in a televised debate in Kazakhstan on 17 November featuring the four other presidential candidates. His challengers raised the issue of the scandal involving money allegedly paid to Nazarbaev by a U.S. businessman for oil contracts. The matter is under investigation in U.S. courts.

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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