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Kazakhstan: Presidential Election Casts Shadow On U.S. Ties

Washington, 12 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says the recent presidential elections in Kazakhstan were flawed and have cast a shadow on U.S.-Kazakh relations.

State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters Monday the election process fell far short of international standards for open, free and fair balloting.

Rubin said preparations for the Kazakh election were seriously faulty because candidates received too little time to organize, had unequal access to the media and there were numerous instances of voter and opposition intimidation prior to the nationwide balloting on Sunday.

Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev was re-elected overwhelmingly and called the vote historic and a step toward democracy.

Rubin said: "We are disappointed by the fact that the election process was carried out in a manner inconsistent with international standards. The conduct of this election has set back the process of democratization in Kazakhstan and has made more difficult the development of the important relationship between our countries as well as Kazakhstan's full participation in Euro-Atlantic institutions."

Rubin urged the government of Kazakhstan to take the necessary steps to improve its electoral process and its human rights observances in order to meet international standards.

In Moscow, meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed news that Nazarbayev had won. Foreign ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said the result reflected Kazakh support for Nazarbayev. Earlier, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze congratulated Nazarbayev on his win.

But observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) strongly criticized the poll. The head of the OSCE election assessment team, Judy Thompson, told reporters in the Kazakh capital Astana that the vote had been "far from the standards" Kazakhstan was supposed to meet as an OSCE member.

State Department's Rubin noted that the United States provides assistance to Kazakhstan to promote greater democracy. He added that Washington will continue to pursue its interest in promoting democratic values there.

Rubin said: "There is no doubt that by handling the election in this manner, Kazakhstan has set back prospects for democratization and violated important international commitments. This has tarnished Kazakhstan's reputation and will make it more difficult for Kazakhstan to participate in international organizations. It has also cast a shadow on our bilateral relations."

Kazakhstan is considered an important country by Washington because of its huge oil reserves and strategic location. The country inherited a large nuclear weapons arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union but surrendered the weapons to the Russian Federation.

Last month, Kazakhstan's foreign minister promised in Washington that his oil-rich country would conduct fair and democratic balloting. Kasymzhomart Tokayev told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank, that the international community should not be concerned about his country's electoral policy.

Tokayev's pledge came following comments by U.S. officials that criticized a ruling by the Kazakhstani Supreme Court. The ruling barred a key rival of Nazarbayev from running in the election.

The high court's ruling was issued in the wake of the Kazakh election commission's decision that declined to register former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin as a presidential candidate. The veteran politician was accused of failing to answer charges he attended an illegal political gathering.

In its annual report on human rights last year, the State Department concluded that democratic institutions in Kazakhstan were weak. It noted that power was concentrated in the presidency and said that the executive branch controls the judiciary and that parliament has limited powers.