Prague, 2 December 2005 (RFE/RL) – "I will vote for stability, I will vote for Nazarbaev."
Recent surveys show that this is the opinion of some 70 percent of voters in Kazakhstan, where 8.6 million voters from a population of about 15 million are registered.
The campaign team for the sixty-five-year-old Nazarbaev, who has ruled the country since 1989, has been touting peace, stability, and economic growth as his major achievements. His team also has pointed to Ukraine (Orange Revolution), Kyrgyzstan (Tulip), and Georgia (Rose), whose "colored" revolutions led, they say, to growing instability.
These tactics seem to be efficient, as 82 percent of respondents to an InterMedia research group survey released on 2 December said they believe "life in Kazakhstan is better than life in neighboring countries."
Thus, the four other presidential candidates face a hard task in challenging Nazarbaev.
Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, registered as a united candidate of the For a Just Kazakhstan opposition movement, is expected to finish a distant second, followed by Alikhan Baimenov, the leader of the opposition Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party.
Also running for the presidency are Yerasyl Abylkasymov of the Communist People's Party, and prominent environmentalist Mels Eleusizov, who leads the Tabighat (Nature) movement.
They challenge the recent survey results that show Nazarbaev far ahead. Serikbolsin Abdildin, a member of Tuyakbai’s campaign, said today, "Surveys show that 60-65 percent of the electorate is going to vote for Tuyakbai."
The four candidates accuse Nazarbaev’s regime of corruption and complain that a biased media and pressure from the authorities skewed the election campaign in favor of the veteran leader.
The authorities, however, have vowed that the 4 December poll will be the most transparent and freest in the country’s history. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said the election "will be the best election in the history of independent Kazakhstan in its degree of openness, fairness, and transparency."
All post-Soviet elections in Kazakhstan fell short of international standards, according to independent monitoring organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Over 1,400 foreign observers are to monitor the vote to ensure the elections are not rigged.
However, observers of the Commonwealth of Independent States Election Monitoring Organization and the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) are not among them.
Kazakh authorities canceled the accreditation of the CIS monitors ahead of the release of their critical report on the election campaign in Kazakhstan.ENEMO was also refused accreditation and, thus, had to include its observers in the monitoring group of the U.S. National Democratic Institute.
Rozani Ismailova, an Almaty-based analyst, told RFE/RL that Kazakh authorities managed to get rid of "unwelcome" observers. "Those observers who criticized [previous] elections were not accepted this year," she said. "Why? Because [authorities believe that] the observers’ objective, or maybe biased, opinion will destabilize the situation in Kazakhstan."
In what is seen as an effort to prevent the "export" of a "colored" revolution from postrevolutionary Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, authorities have expelled many foreigners from Kazakhstan. Yesterday, six Ukrainians were refused further stay in the country. Their case followed the expulsion of foreign migrants including several dozens of Kyrgyz earlier this week. The border with Kyrgyzstan was sealed.
Opposition candidates say they will take to the streets if authorities try to steal the elections.
Independent experts say mass protests following the announcement of election results are a possibility. Erlan Karin, a prominent political analyst, is one of them. But speaking to RFE/RL from Almaty, he said mass protests are unlikely to lead to a regime change in Kazakhstan.
"They don’t have the possibility to organize one big ‘maydan’ [referring to Kyiv’s main square where demonstrations took place in December 2004] like in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine," Karin said. "I believe they will have 20 small maydans. If the opposition decides to organize mass protests, they will likely do so only to get some, limited, concessions from authorities. No more than that."
Authorities have banned street demonstrations before the vote counting is complete and official results are announced, which could take weeks.
Officials also seem to be sure there will be a high turnout. Central Election Commission Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov told journalists yesterday that over 70 percent of eligible voters are expected to vote on 4 December. Under current legislation, however, the poll will be considered valid with any turnout.
Preliminary results are due to be announced the day after the vote, on 5 December.
(RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan and Elmurod Jusupaliev, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service’s correspondent in Almaty, contributed to this report.)