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Kazakhstan: OSCE Criticism Elections Is Message To Neighbors

In a preliminary report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has made some criticisms about Sunday's (October 10) parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan. Neighboring countries in Central Asia are also preparing for elections in the next six months. And as RFE/RL's Bruce Pannier reports, those countries can learn from the OSCE criticism of Kazakhstan.

Prague, 13 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Two days after parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, the OSCE's preliminary report notes some improvements and makes many criticisms. Kazakhstan's neighbors in Central Asia will soon hold their own elections, and some of those may also be monitored by the OSCE. The other countries of Central Asia can find in the OSCE report on Kazakhstan some tips on what to avoid.

The leader of the OSCE observation mission, Ihor Ostash, gave this warning:

"If Kazakhstan is to make further progress in this transition, interference by executive authorities in the broader electoral process must be halted, and their resistance to international standards must be overcome."

Tajikistan should take that advice to heart. For the Tajik presidential election next month, President Imomali Rakhmonov cleared the first hurdle in the registration process in just over a week, collecting the requisite 145,000 signatures of voters. His three opponents say they did not even get the official form from the Central Elections Commission for several days after they declared. They still have not collected all the necessary signatures and have threatened to boycott the election.

The OSCE statement on Kazakhstan's elections says this: "The registration of 10 political parties (and) some 550 candidates ... contributed to a pluralistic political environment. But many candidates have associations with (the) power structures."

That is also true in Uzbekistan. Five political parties are running in the December elections to parliament, but all are considered pro-presidential parties. And in Turkmenistan, there is only one known party participating in that country's December's elections to parliament.

The OSCE also says the Kazakh government interfered with the independent media and the campaigns of opposition parties and candidates. The statement says, "With regards to regional media, the Election Observation Mission received reports that authorities often made 'recommendations' on which parties and candidates were to be covered."

The section of the OSCE report dealing with Kazakhstan's election commissions points out problems that have already been noticed in other Central Asian countries. The statement notes that Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission did allow representatives of political parties to sit on some regional election commissions. But it said, "In general, the system served to mask the affiliation of many election commission members with Otan, the party identified with current power structures."

Election commissions are already an issue in Tajikistan, where members of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), the main opposition to the president, complain they do not have enough representation in local polling. The UTO fears vote-rigging will be unavoidable if there is not either an impartial representative or an opposition representative in the election commissions.

In past Central Asian elections, the most often cited irregularity has been proxy voting, when the male head of a household votes for all his family's voters. In Sunday's Kazakh election, the OSCE noticed the practice in only 22 percent of the polling areas monitored. That is one sign of improvement. But proxy voting is also the least egregious of all irregularities, and improvement in other areas would be considered more important.

The OSCE has not yet indicated which of the upcoming Central Asian elections it will monitor. Back in January, the runup to Kazakhstan's presidential election fell so far short of democratic practices that the organization expressed its dissatisfaction by not sending a mission to monitor the polls on election day.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service contributed to this article)