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Kazakhstan: Date Set For Senate Elections

Prague, 7 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed an order naming 8 October as the date for elections to the country's 39-seat Senate, or upper house of parliament. The order was printed in Kazakh newspapers today.

Of the 39 Senate seats, seven are awarded by Nazarbaev. Each of Kazakhstan's 14 regions has two deputies and the two largest cities, Almaty and the capital Astana, also have two each.

The last Senate elections were held in 1999. Only those candidates who were elected in 1997 but not re-elected in 1999 are involved in the October poll. There are 15 such candidates.

The election will not be a popular vote. Regional councils will select deputies after they are approved by district committees.

In theory, anyone can be a Senate candidate. But in fact, to be forwarded as a regional candidate, a person must have the backing of every district committee within that region. The number of districts varies depending on the size of the region's population.

Nazarbaev's order noted that elections are being held in accordance with the terms of the country's constitution. The constitution previously stipulated that every member of the Senate must run for re-election at the end of five years in office. That term was prolonged to six years at the end of 1999, along with amendments that gave the president seven, rather than five, years in office. Members of the Mazhlis, or lower house, were given five years instead of the previous four.

Analysts believe the October elections will not represent any kind of change in Kazakhstan. The chances that opposition parties would receive even one of the seats is remote at best.

But the elections come at a sensitive moment for Kazakhstan. A law on political parties that came into effect last month already places a heavy burden on opposition parties, who now must find 50,000 registered members instead of the previous 3,000 within eight months in order to re-register.

In addition, the jailing of two leading opposition figures on criminal charges within the last month has drawn criticism from some non-CIS countries with solid ties to Kazakhstan, like the United States. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has also raised questions about the possibility that the two opposition figures were singled out more for their political activities than any criminal offenses.

The installation of 15 new members in the Senate who are all perceived as cronies of the president would not help Kazakhstan's image at this time.

(Edige Magauin of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)