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Kazakhstan: Ethnic Minorities Guaranteed Seats In Parliament

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev (file photo) (official site) June 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan will have parliamentary elections in August, and some of the seats to be filled have been slotted for ethnic minorities in the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, a little-known body that will send 17 of its members to parliament in August elections.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev accepted a motion on June 19 to dissolve the Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament, and called for new elections to be held on August 18.

"The early elections for deputies for the Mazhilis of Kazakhstan, elected from the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, is set for August 20, 2007," he said.

"We are all citizens of Kazakhstan and, according to the constitution, we have the right to be elected and to elect."

What Is The Assembly?

The Assembly of People of Kazakhstan was created in March 1995. According to the body's website, it has 350 members who represent the some 100 ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. Its chairman is Nazarbaev.

It will be the first time there will be an election involving the assembly members, who were appointed to their seats.

In August, assembly members will elect other members of the assembly to the nine of the 107 seats in the Mazhilis (lower house) and eight seats in the Senate (upper house).

Zhumatai Aliev, the deputy chairman of the assembly, said he approves of the idea to elect ethnic minority leaders to parliament.

"Representatives of ethnic groups who are in the assembly will speak up for the interests of our government, of our people," he said. "They consider Kazakhstan their homeland and this is their homeland. They will speak up for reforms; they and the chairman of the assembly who is the president of our country."

Giving Minorities Seats

Anatoly Chesnokov is the first deputy chairman of the Association of Russians, Slavs, and Cossacks. He talked to RFE/RL about the assembly.

"The small ethnic groups very rarely have the sufficient means to show off their knowledge," he said. "In a lot of parliaments in many countries, for example Romania, where there are more than 100 nationalities, practically all the groups are represented."

But others are concerned that with more than 100 nationalities present in Kazakhstan, only some of the ethnic groups will fill the 17 seats in parliament and will represent their nationalities there.

Gerold Belger is an ethnic German who translates works into Kazakh. In a conversation with RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, he pointed out some of the problems with the plan to put assembly representatives in the parliament.

"If every nationality would have its own representative in the legislature then the Kazakhs, who are the titular nation, would not have any place," he said. "That means one needs to think here. If we take only representatives from the larger minorities, say the Russians, Koreans, Tatars, and Germans, other groups will be dissatisfied. So I don't see a solution to this problem."

Elected By A Small Group

Kakharman Kozhamberdiev is an activist in Kazakhstan's Uyghur community. He told RFE/RL he is troubled by details that have not been made clear yet.

"Our government is unitary," Kozhamberdiev said. "The president, obviously, wants representation from this institute that has existed for 12 years. But, in fact, the members of the assembly themselves are not elected, no one elected them. For example, I don't know how these people got there [in the assembly]. Therefore it is necessary to work out a mechanism so that [all of] the members of the assembly will be elected. They need to elect people to the assembly so that qualified people are picked for the [assembly's] quota in parliament."

Malikshah Gasanov is the first vice president of the Kurdish Association of Kazakhstan. He said his group already suffers from being undercounted by authorities.

"I think that it's about time this question was addressed, because if people are elected on a general basis (direct elections by the people) then representatives of the smaller minorities would never be elected to parliament," he said. "But let's understand this correctly. Let's say a Turkish representative wasn't elected in previous elections, he didn't get enough votes. That is a different issue. There are nine seats [in the lower house] given to [the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan]. These nine places will undoubtedly be given to the larger [ethnic] groups in Kazakhstan."

Undercounted And Underrepresented?

Gasanov added that officially there are some 46,000 Kurds in Kazakhstan, but in reality he claims there are more than twice that number. Gasanov said many Kurds deported from Georgia toward the end of World War II were registered in Kazakhstan as Turks and Azerbaijanis.

And Ult Tagdyry (National-Patriotic Movement) leader Dos Koshim said that according to Kazakhstan's Constitution, "there should be no distinctions based on nationality, religion, or race." He said another violation of the constitution is that "according to the elections law we all have an equal opportunity to be elected and there should be equal rights."

Koshim said this right also is being violated since "only representatives of the assembly pick the delegates from the assembly, and not the 9 million registered voters of Kazakhstan."

The head of the Azerbaijani Cultural Center is Asyla Osmanova. She said she did not agree with the representatives from the assembly being elected to the parliament only by the members of the assembly. "We are all citizens of Kazakhstan and, according to the constitution, we have the right to be elected and to elect."

Osmanova also asked: "Tomorrow, will the candidate serve society or his or her own diaspora?"

While the idea of ensuring national minorities have a place in government seems sensible, it does run somewhat counter to the idea of equality for all people that the Kazakh leadership has stressed for so many years.

(Yerzhan Karabekov of the Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

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