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At Least One Party To Enter New Kazakh Assembly


Kazakhs Voting To End One-Party Rule
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Voting has begun in snap parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan that will end one-party rule but still exclude any real opposition

Exit polls from the elections in Kazakhstan suggest that up to two parties could enter parliament alongside the ruling Nur Otan party of longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The antigovernment opposition has already alleged that the January 15 elections were marred by widespread and flagrant violations.

The vote, which came after deadly riots last month in the western oil-producing region of the country, followed the creation of a new election law aimed at ending single-party domination by Nur Otan.

Under the law, at least one of the six parties challenging Nur Otan is guaranteed entry into the 107-seat Mazhilis, or lower house, even if it fails to pass the 7 percent entry threshold.

Exit polls from the vote said Nur Otan would win some 80 percent of the vote. But the polls said the Aq Zhol party, described as pro-business, and the Communist People's Party, could also both win just over 7 percent.

Officials said voter turnout was around 75 percent.

Many of Nazarbaev's opponents were barred from running in the poll, and the Aq Zhol party is led by a former ruling-party member.

Casting his ballot in the capital, Astana, the 71-year-old president called the vote "a big test."

"I'm sure that, as always, the Kazakh people will vote for the stability of our country, for the calm of our country, and therefore for the development and well-being of all Kazakhs," Nazarbaev said. "We've done everything necessary to make open, fair elections. This is a big test for us."

Voting was reported to have proceeded calmly in the western city of Zhanaozen, the center of the recent riots. One Zhanaozen resident told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the city was "full" of armed riot police and that men armed with clubs were guarding the local polling stations.

But Margarita Assenova, a U.S.-based election monitor, told RFE/RL the police presence in Zhanaozen "was not particularly strong."

Flicker Of Hope

Nazarbaev dissolved the last Mazhilis after lawmakers from Nur Otan petitioned for a multiparty legislature in early November.

Nur Otan held all 107 seats in the dissolved lower house of parliament. So Nazarbaev's pledge that at least two political groups would enter the next Mazhilis offered a flicker of hope to Western and domestic critics who've pressed for democratic reforms.

But in a country with no record of free and fair elections, strict limits on dissenters' access to media, and just two months to prepare for the voting, genuine presidential critics stand little real chance of winning seats in the new legislature.

The Social Democratic-Azat party (ZhSDP) is the only one of the seven parties in the running (Nur Otan, Aq Zhol, Auyl, Adilet, ZhSDP, Patriots' Party, and Communist People's Party) that is not regarded as a loyal presidential supporter.

Nur Otan and the strongly pro-presidential Aq Zhol are expected to fare well, and opposition leaders accuse authorities of systematically excluding opponents from the process.

WATCH: A correspondent for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service filmed suspected ballot-stuffing at election booth No. 374 near Almaty. (Video in Kazakh)
Suspected Ballot-Stuffing Near Almaty
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Voting Fraud Allegations

RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported multiple claims of fraud during the January 15 voting.

Correspondent Asylkhan Mamashuly filmed a scene of suspected ballot-stuffing by a Kazakh election official at polling station No. 374 in the village of Zhana Turmys near Almaty. When asked by RFE/RL what she was doing, she said she was acting on behalf of a voter. A local resident then said he was casting ballots for his entire family, which he claimed included nine sons.

Other claims of fraud were also reported.

Members of the opposition ZhSDP party allege they encountered a voter who said she had been promised 2,000 tenges ($13) in exchange for voting for Nur Otan.

The Republican Network of Independent Monitors, a Kazakh-based group, reported a number of serious infractions in Astana, ranging from the blocking of observers from some polling stations to poorly sealed ballot boxes.

Written by Farangis Najibullah, with reporting from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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