Accessibility links

Breaking News

Kazakhstan: Pressure Grows For Fair Elections

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the head of the largest opposition party (AFP) August 17, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakhstan is holding elections on August 18 for the Mazhilis, its lower house of parliament. While changes to the Kazakh Constitution in May made the early elections necessary, the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion.

But there is strong pressure on Kazakhstan to hold free and fair elections as the country still aspires to take the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) rotating chairmanship in 2009. EU officials have reminded Kazakh authorities that this election will be closely monitored.

The OSCE election-monitoring watchdog has always sent monitors to Kazakhstan's parliamentary and presidential elections and has never been able to judge them as being free and fair.

Opposition Chances

And the Kazakh opposition may have a very good chance of adding members to the parliament in elections on August 18.

Only one opposition candidate won a seat in the 77-seat Mazhilis during the 2004 elections and many in Kazakhstan question whether that deputy, Alikhan Baimenov, can still be considered an opposition figure.

But it appears the situation regarding the opposition's presence in parliament may change this weekend as the main opposition party is doing well in opinion polls.

Though Kazakhstan covets being chair of the OSCE in 2009, some representatives of OSCE countries point to Kazakhstan's poor record on democratic reform and conducting elections that OSCE monitors say have never met international standards for being free and fair.

Kazakhstan's nearly 9 million eligible voters will have a chance to cast ballots for candidates from seven parties competing in the elections (the eighth, the Communist Party, is boycotting the election).

President's Party Overwhelming Favorite

But few inside or outside of Kazakhstan have any illusions about the results. The ruling Nur Otan party (Light of the Fatherland), led by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, is expected to win an easy majority in the restructured 107-seat lower house.

But polls conducted by various analytical centers in Kazakhstan in the weeks leading up to the elections indicate the opposition Social Democratic Party (OSDP) -- led by former Mazhilis speaker and presidential candidate Zhamarkhan Tuyakbai -- should win some seats.

"More than 40 percent of the population is ready to support the ruling Nur Otan party and second in the poll is the Social Democratic Party," Asyl Abdulov of the Center for Social Studies told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

Although other polls indicate that Nur Otan will win substantially more than 40 percent of the vote, they also show some support for Social Democrats, enough for them to win seats in the Mazhilis.

Abdulov of the Center for Social Studies said it is possible none of the other five parties competing will have sufficient support to break the 7 percent threshold needed to receive a place in the lower house.

Low Turnout?

"The other parties are thus far incapable of reaching the 7 percent barrier with the exception of the Ak Zhol [Bright Path] party," he said.

Polls in Kazakhstan also revealed something else -- only slightly more than half of those polled said that they intend to vote in the elections.

Since the general view is that Nur Otan will win the overwhelming number of seats in parliament, many voters apparently do not see any reason to vote. Nazarbaev addressed this feeling in a recent speech.

"Dear Kazakhstanis, I call on all compatriots to come to the voting stations on August 18 and fulfill your civic duty," Nazarbaev said. "That day you will vote for the new Kazakhstan, for its democracy and powerful development, and for our nation's capability to compete, I believe."

The battle for Kazakhstan's parliament has always produced controversy. The OSCE election-monitoring watchdog, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has always sent monitors to Kazakhstan's parliamentary and presidential elections and never been able to judge them as being free and fair.

Media Bias Charges

There have been fewer complaints so far this time, but the Social Democratic Party says there is a bias in the media toward Nur Otan.

A member of the OSDP and a longtime opposition figure, Amirzhan Kosanov, claims the media favors Nur Otan and, to prove his point, he read the headlines of articles from several newspapers:

"[The weekly newspaper] "Usken Ongir" [Native Region], a socio-political [newspaper] of the Almaty region," Kosanov said. "What does [the headline] say: 'Nur Otan: Election is Proof of Power.' [The text reads:] 'People should understand that the only force taking care of every single citizen of each region and working especially hard to alleviate the consequences of the Aral Sea is the party led by our beloved president -- Nur-Otan.' Another headline reads: 'My Country Kazakhstan, My Party Nur Otan,' etc., etc... [Another reads:] 'the work of Nur-Otan is a guarantee for our statehood.' They even mention Allah the almighty saying 'Nur-Otan, the democratic party of the nation with a name that begins with one of the [99] names of Allah.'"

TV Ads Banned

The OSDP has also complained that its advertisements have been kept off of Kazakh television. The OSDP produced several clips titled "One Country, Two Fates" that are still available on the YouTube website and show how the rich and powerful in Kazakhstan live while other people in Kazakhstan are either dying in a mining disaster, or from accidental infection by the HIV/AIDS virus or are being evicted from their homes. The clips end with the message: "It's time to return the country to the people."

Marat Bashilov, the head of the president's committee on human rights, says such campaign ads are harmful to Kazakh society. "These video promotions should not be shown. It is disrupting social harmony and calling for rebellion by saying return the country to the people," he says.

Only 98 of the 107 seats in the Mazhilis are being contested in this poll and those will be filled according to party lists. The other nine seats will be filled from the Assembly of Peoples, a body representing the various ethnic groups of Kazakhstan that is not subject to direct elections.

Preliminary election results should be announced by August 20.

(RFE/RL's Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharizhanov contributed to this report.)

Kazakhstan And The OSCE

Kazakhstan And The OSCE

READY TO LEAD THE OSCE? Kazakhstan has been lobbying to be granted the rotating chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009. In March, current OSCE head Karel De Gucht visited the country and said Kazakhstan is better prepared to head the OSCE than any other Central Asian country. But concerns about the state of democracy, the media, and ethnic relations make Kazakhstan's bid extremely controversial....(more)


OSCE Chief Tours Central Asia

OSCE Says Kazakh Presidential Vote Flawed

OSCE Says Kazakh Obligations Not Met Ahead Of Vote

OSCE Offers Amendments To Kazakhstan’s Draft Media Law


RFE/RL's coverage of Kazakhstan. The website of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.