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Kazakhstan: OSCE Critical Of Presidential Election

Prague, 12 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized in detail the conditions under which Kazakhstan held its presidential election at the weekend. At the same time, the OSCE has offered some encouragement to Kazakhstan to continue along the path of democratization.

The January 10 election resulted, as expected, in the return to power of incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev after a campaign viewed by the OSCE, and also the United States, as heavily biased in Nazarbayev's favour. The OSCE declined to send a full mission to officially monitor the voting, and has refused to recognize the results. It did, however, agree to send a small team of 15 people to make a limited general assessment of the election.

A spokesman for this team, Anders Karlsen of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, spoke with RFE/RL today by telephone from Almaty:

"It did fall far short of living up to OSCE commitments, in particular the way the pre-election campaign was conducted and the general circumstances in which the election took place."

The OSCE sets out its criticism under six major headings. One deals with recently-enacted rules under which two would-be candidates were denied registration because they took part in an unsanctioned political gathering. One of them was former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was considered the only serious challenger to Nazarbayev.

Another criticism deals with the timing of the election, which was called early and did not allow opposition candidates enough time to prepare. Others deal with restrictions on the right of association and assembly and access to the media. The OSCE says both state-owned and private media gave a disproportionately high share of the coverage to Nazarbayev. In general atmosphere also, the campaign was seen as biased, in that state authorities were not impartial, but gave support in particular to the incumbent. Finally, the OSCE noted a major flaw in the election process, in that it is governed by presidential decree. It says proper legislation passed by parliament after public debate would enhance the credibility of the election process.

At the same time, the OSCE's comments are not all negative. Karlsen notes that the election took place in a calm and peaceful manner, as far as the limited assessment team was able to see. The OSCE praised the Kazakh Central Election Commission, saying it had carried out a wide and impartial effort to inform the public of their rights, and also about the procedure for properly filling-out a ballot, and about the biographies of candidates. The commission was urged to continue such efforts in perpetration for future elections. Karlsen said:

"We feel they made a good effort in terms of voter education, and we are looking rather optimistically at the future, in that we have had some commitments to cooperate in the future".

He was referring to the Memorandum of Understanding signed last month between the Kazakh government and the OSCE. This document sets a framework for cooperation in future elections, and includes concrete projects relating to improvement of the election process as well as democratization and human rights.

The OSCE says it stands ready to assist Kazakhstan to prepare for future elections, in particular the local and parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year.

As to the presidential contenders who lost-out in the voting, they are far from happy. Communist Party candidate Serikbolsyn Abdildin claimed the results of the election had been forged, and that there had been numerous violations of electoral law. Another candidate, Gani Kasimov, head of the State Customs Committee, said that he will appeal to the country's Constitutional Court.

The winner, President Nazarbayev, has sidestepped criticism of the election, calling such comments a normal part of the democratic process.

In post-election comments in Astana yesterday, he said that he is aware that some 20 percent of the electorate voted against him. He said he believes this contrary vote was caused in part by the poverty of sections of the Kazakh population. He said he would persevere with his present economic program, and re-appoint present Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev, and ask him to form a new government.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service helped with this report.)