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Kazakh Electors Pick Fresh Crop Of Senators

President Nazarbaev has dominated Kazakh public life for two decades.
The head of Kazakhstan's election authority has endorsed the results of an indirect vote to fill a handful of seats in the country's rubber-stamp upper house of parliament, saying candidates won majorities in all 16 contests.

It was unclear whether all the winners were members of the pro-presidential Nur-Otan party or nominal independents, but there were no opposition members among the 37 candidates in the running.

Preliminary counts from the balloting -- in which entrenched officials do the voting -- were expected to trickle out this evening, with final results by October 10.

But none of the candidates presented anything resembling an alternative to long-time President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Nazarbaev's critics have dismissed the vote as window-dressing.

"To tell the truth, these are not elections. Whoever is approved by authorities in Astana, they will become senators," opposition leader Bulat Abilov told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "Transparent and fair elections don't happen here; this is all empty rhetoric. We don't believe in these Senate elections."

The chairman of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission, Kuandyk Turgankulov, declared the voting valid and said there would be no run-offs because all the winners took more than 50 percent of the vote.

Another election official, Central Elections Commission member Lyazzat Suleyman, said "no instances of election-law violations had been reported," according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service.

The 16 constituencies at stake represent half of the 32 indirectly elected seats in the 47-member Senate. The other 15 seats are filled by presidential decree.

President Nazarbaev's allies won all 98 seats that were being contested in the last elections to the lower house, in 2007.

None of Kazakhstan's elections since independence in 1991 have been deemed free or fair by Western observers, and there was no systematic Western monitoring of this vote.

Western governments have consistently pressed Nazarbaev -- who has been in power for two decades -- to usher in democratic and other reforms.

There had been some hope that the Senate elections offered Kazakhstan an opportunity to demonstrate it was moving in a direction that put it more in line with the principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which the country is set to chair in 2010.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry had said several dozen CIS observers would be on hand for the October 4 vote.

By Andy Heil with contributions from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service