Kazakhstan Votes in Parliamentary Elections

Posted January 15th, 2012 at 12:40 am (UTC-5)
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Voters in Kazakhstan are casting ballots in an election expected to only slightly broaden democratic representation in parliament.

All seats in the former Soviet nation's parliament are currently occupied by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party, which is expected to win Sunday's election by a landslide.

Under a new law, the second-place party will be guaranteed a presence in parliament, whether or not it clears the 7 percent entry threshold.

Opposition parties most likely to pose a challenge to Nur Otan have been disqualified, leaving the pro-business Ak Zhol party widely expected to win second place.

President Nazarbayev, who is 71, remains overwhelmingly popular throughout most of the mainly Muslim country. He has been Kazakhstan's only president since the republic declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Sunday's election is taking place in the shadow of an unusual outburst of discontent and violence. In December, a long-term protest in Zhanaozen by laid-off oil workers degenerated into clashes with police, killing at least 15 people.

Such violence is rare in Kazakhstan, where public dissent is not tolerated. But Kazakhstan's oil wealth has led to more stability and a higher standard of living than in other Central Asian former Soviet states.