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OSCE Monitors Criticize Kazakh Vote Failings


President Nursultan Nazarbaev, wearing the party scarf of Nur Otan, speaks at party headquarters in Astana on January 16.
President Nursultan Nazarbaev, wearing the party scarf of Nur Otan, speaks at party headquarters in Astana on January 16.
International election monitors say Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections failed to meet basic democratic principles.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that despite the authorities' stated ambition to strengthen democratic processes, the January 15 vote "did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections."

Speaking at a press conference in Astana on January 16, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Joao Soares noted that most opposition parties were blocked from running.

"If Kazakhstan authorities are serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in parliament, then they should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate in this election," Soares said. "We hope this will change in the future."

According to preliminary results, the ruling Nur Otan party will be joined in the next parliament by two other political parties -- Aq Zhol and the Communist People's Party -- both considered to be loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Election officials said Nur Otan won more than 80 percent of the vote, while Aq Zhol and the Communist People's Party got slightly over 7 percent each.

For the first time, the second-place party was guaranteed entry into the 107-seat Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament, even if it failed to pass the 7 percent threshold.

'Orchestrated Election'

The elections put an end to Kazakhstan's much-criticized one-party rule, although no real opposition party managed to enter the Mazhilis. The Social Democratic-Azat Party (ZhSDP-Azat) -- considered the only real opposition party contesting the polls -- received only 1.6 percent of the vote.

Speaking to reporters in Astana, Miklos Haraszti, the head of the OSCE's long-term election-observation mission, criticized what he called a "tightly controlled campaign environment in which the electoral rights of the citizens were seriously limited."

"There was limited public debate and the media, the mass media operates in an environment characterized by self-censorship and in which there is no room for editorial independence in the broadcast media," Haraszti said.

Haraszti said the "results of the election, including the presence of two parties apart from the state party, can be described as an orchestrated election."

Opposition activists announced on January 16 they would organize a demonstration in Almaty Central Square on January 17 to protest the election results. Earlier, they said the elections were marred by widespread violations.

Nazarbaev called the election outcome “a victory for all the people of Kazakhstan." He cited their "unprecedented transparency" and "openness."

WATCH: A correspondent for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service filmed suspected ballot-stuffing at election booth No. 374 near Almaty.
Kazakh Opposition Says Elections Marred By Violations
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Two-Party Monopoly

Parliamentary polls were originally scheduled to take place in August 2012, but Nazarbaev dissolved the parliament in November and called for early elections. The move was aimed to have more than one party in the Mazhilis, which following the 2007 elections was completely occupied by Nur Otan.

Ninety-eight Mazhilis seats will be decided according to the January 15 vote count. Lawmakers for the remaining nine seats will be chosen on January 16 by the People's Assembly, an advisory body loyal to Nazarbaev.

Four out of seven parties contesting the polls did not pass the 7 percent threshold and are not eligible to get parliamentary seats.

In April 2011, Nazarbaev promised that the next parliament would have more than one party. Opposition leaders have criticized authorities for seeking to keep their opponents out of the Mazhilis.

The Algha opposition party has been denied official registration, while the Communist Party has been suspended for trying to form a bloc with an unregistered group.

Shortly before the elections, the Rukhaniat party was barred from the parliamentary race facing vague charges. The decision came days after the party's leader criticized the authorities' handling of the crisis in the western town of Zhanaozen, where long-running peaceful protests by striking oil workers turned into deadly unrest on December 16.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, based on RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and news agency material
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