Kazakhstan Leader Hails Unity, OSCE Criticizes Parliament Vote

Posted January 16th, 2012 at 6:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, says his party's landslide victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections is a sign of support for his government after last month's deadly anti-government protests.

But observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Monday criticized the election, saying it excluded any real opposition. The OSCE report said the polls did not meet basic democratic principles.

Kazakhstani officials are disputing the OSCE findings, saying the election was open and transparent.

Preliminary results say Mr. Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party won 81 percent of the vote with two other pro-Nazarbayev parties — Ak Zhol and the Communist People's party — winning seats for the first time. Nur Otan currently holds every seat in parliament.

Under Kazakhstan's new election law, the second-place finisher automatically gets seats. But any party that gets at least 7 percent of the vote also wins seats.

A State Department spokesman says the United States looks forward to working with Kazakhstan's new multi-party parliament and hopes its government follows through on its stated goal of genuine political pluralism.

But Kazakhstan's opposition All-National Social Democratic party says it plans to hold a protest Tuesday. The party, which calls itself the only true opposition choice, won only 1.6 percent of the vote Sunday. Three other parties also finished far short of the 7 percent threshold.

Sunday's elections were held a month after a protest by laid-off government oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen turned violent, leaving at least 15 people dead. Authorities in the town originally cancelled voting, but President Nazarbayev ordered it to be held as scheduled.

Such anti-government violence is rare in Kazakhstan, where, despite a lack of free speech and human rights, the country's oil wealth has brought a higher standard of living than in most other Central Asian former Soviet states.

Mr. Nazarbayev has been Kazakhstan's only president since it gained independence in 1991.