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Kazakhstan: Former Prime Minister Sees Need For Election Law

Washington, 23 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A former prime minister of Kazakhstan says his country's upcoming parliamentary elections will not be free and fair unless an election law ensuring such guarantees is passed by the nation's parliament.

Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was Kazakhstan's prime minister from 1994 to 1997, made the comment Wednesday at a press briefing organized by RFE/RL in Washington on "Democracy in Kazakhstan: A Post-Election Status Report." Kazhegeldin is currently the head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan -- a prominent business organization-- and chairman of the National Republican Party of Kazakhstan, a party which was officially registered in Kazakhstan on March 1, 1999.

Kazhegeldin said that if his country is sincere about pursuing democracy, then Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the parliament should quickly pass an election law that complies with international standards and regulations.

"Our formula is very simple: If there is no law on free elections, then there will be no free elections. "

Kazhegeldin said his party intends to try to take part in the parliamentary elections, but cautions that if no election law is passed, then his party has no chance of winning. He said what will likely happen is that before the elections, officials will disqualify his party's candidates on technicalities, just as they have already disqualified Kazhegeldin himself from running.

Kazhegeldin said an election law is the "main factor" for the democratization of Kazakhstan. Beyond that, he said all the executive organs and judges must be elected, and the president must delegate some of his authority and powers to the parliament.

"Only then we will have competition. Only then people will be able to exercise their right to choose, and we will have an independent press."

Kazhegeldin appealed to the U.S. and the West to support the fledgling democratic movements in Kazakhstan. He said one of the best ways to continue what he called the "democratic education" of the world, is to support such organizations as the U.S.-funded radio stations, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America.

Kazhegeldin urged the U.S. Congress to refrain from slashing the budgets of the two radio stations, saying that their broadcasts are critical because "some countries simply lack alternative sources for information."

Kazhegeldin said that Kazakhstan today is a country without a national identity, primarily because it lacks democratic institutions. Only the respect for the rights of all citizens of Kazakhstan -- irrespective of their ethnicity -- will move the country closer to gaining a true national identity, he said.

Daulet Absatov, the second secretary of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington also attended the briefing. When asked to comment on Kazhegeldin's statement, he told RFE/RL that every citizen of Kazakhstan has the right to voice an opinion on any topic. He declined to comment further. But Kazhegeldin says he remains optimistic about the future of Kazakhstan.

"I do not think that my country is hopeless in terms of becoming democratic. I think it can become democratic. Now the goal is to keep goading our government to move forward to democracy."

Parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan are expected in December. A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today that it plans to send a team to monitor the elections.

The spokesman, who spoke with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said the OSCE has been pressing the Kazakh government to allow opposition parties to compete for all seats in parliament rather than reserving most for government supporters.