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Kazakhstan: Second Election Round Resembles First

Kazakhstan held runoff elections to the lower house of parliament on Sunday. The first round two weeks previous was criticized by international observers and proved disappointing in terms of voter turnout. RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports that the second round seems to have been much the same.

Prague, 26 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As was true after voting two weeks ago, international observers are again raising concerns about the second round.

Hrair Balian of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told reporters in Almaty late yesterday the vote had been evaluated as not corresponding to international democratic standards. He said interference by the executive branch had kept the election from being fair, confidential and transparent. Balian called the elections "an unconvincing step towards international standards."

Central Election Commission chairwoman Zaghipa Baliyeva, speaking to reporters in Astana today, seemed to acknowledge some of the complaints may be legitimate.

"I want to say, it could be that under current Kazakh legislation the Central Elections Commission may find results in some districts invalid. This will be the case if during elections, tabulation of votes, or other stages of the elections procedure there were serious mistakes or violations."

Turnout for Kazakhstan's second attempt at filling the 77 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Mazhlis, appears to have been less than two weeks ago. The Central Election Commission announced yesterday the preliminary turnout was just under 50 percent, down some 10 percent from the first round.

Sunday's runoffs for the lower house of parliament were in 47 of 67 districts where no candidate received over 50 percent on October 10. Final official returns are expected Friday.

Ten political parties were registered to compete in the elections.

The preliminary results from the two rounds favor the government. The pro-government Otan (Fatherland) Party appears to have taken more than 20 seats, possibly as many as 27. Another pro-government party, the Civic Party, also appears to have done well. The two should have a simple majority in the next Mazhlis.

Among other parties which took part in elections the Communist Party got three seats, including two it won in the first round's party list vote. The Agrarian Party received two seats -- both via the party list. The Republican People's Party of former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin got one seat. Independent candidate Gany Kasymov, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency, also won a seat.

A third round may be required in three districts.

Sunday's turnout was low despite pleas from officials that voting was a duty. Omurbek Baigeldy, the chairman of the upper house of parliament, speaking shortly before the second round said:

"The duty before our motherland, our nation and our government is to come to and take part in the polls. Who will be against our future? That is why everyone is supposed to come. Because the time has arrived for us to decide our destiny. That is why everyone can come, without fear, in a free way and vote."

The highest turnout was in the Almaty region, where about 63 percent of voters turned out. In the Akmolinsk region, turnout was around 56 percent. In the capital, Astana, only 24 percent turned out -- slightly better than the country's largest city, Almaty, where turnout was reported at 22 percent.

Some Kazakh observers joined the OSCE in criticizing the elections. Kazakh political activist Dos Koshim helped organize 865 volunteer observers across the country. He said they recorded a number of violations in the voting and tabulation process. Koshim spoke with RFE/RL about what he believes was behind the low turnout.

"Our nation is becoming suspicious about democracy, but I would say the number of voters in the second stage of elections was less not because the number of candidates was less than in first stage but because voters were disappointed by the results of first stage. Hope began to evaporate. That is why I would agree with the words of the OSCE, that the elections were not a step towards democracy but a step backward."

While OSCE monitors have been critical of the parliamentary elections, they have noted improvements over presidential elections in January. The OSCE characterized the January vote as being far from corresponding to international democratic standards. In evaluating the parliamentary elections, the OSCE has dropped reference to their being "far from" standard. The OSCE's Balian stated simply that the more recent voting did "not correspond" to standards.

The OSCE's preliminary conclusions released yesterday note that its observer mission "has evidence of candidates with the first and third [instead of second] highest vote-counts [in the first round] having been qualified for the second round." Also that "often, [administrators] were reported to have instructed election commission members that certain candidates were expected to win."

That coincides with an observer mission experience in Kazkahstan's Atyrau district, which was, the OSCE noted, "one of the few...where an opposition candidate qualified for the second round." The OSCE statement said "the District Election Commission Chairman initially denied international observers access to the tabulation process and refused to follow the Central Election Commission's 'transparency' instructions." This and other complaints, the OSCE said, meant "those who qualified for the second round contest in the remaining 47 constituencies and who competed on October 24, did so in an atmosphere of public distrust and skepticism."

Candidates such as Azamat Party co-chairman Petr Svoik and editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper 21st century, Bigeldi Gabdullin, took the majority of votes in their districts in the October 10 poll. But they did not win the over 50 percent of the vote required in the first round and lost in runoff elections on Sunday.

(Edige Magauin and Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)