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Uneven playing field and violations despite promises

Uneven playing field and violations despite promises

On Sunday 15 January, Kazakhstan held early Parliamentary elections after President Nazarbayev expressed that more than one party now should be represented in Parliament and law amendments were made to provide for this. However, despite promises of democratization and the recent period as chair of the OSCE, several violations took place and did not allow for a fair and democratic competition for the seats in Parliament.

–Kazakhstan is proud of referring to itself as the most developed country in the Central Asia region and should seek to live up to these statements in all fields, says Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Bjørn Engesland. –The election last Sunday, however, demonstrated that there is no genuine will in the government of Kazakhstan to allow for open and competitive elections.

In addition to the ruling Nur-Otan party, six parties ran in the elections, including parties with a pro-government platform, and a Social-Democratic party without its most profiled list candidates. Other genuine opposition groups have been unable to obtain registration and as such cannot run in the elections, whereas the Communist Party is still under a 6 month suspension as administrative punishment.

Today, Norwegian Helsinki Committee partner Echo held a press conference at the National Press Club in Almaty, presenting preliminary findings from their monitoring of the elections. According to the director of the NGO, Pavel Lobachev, some positive steps were taken in the prevention of election fraud this year. However, there were several instances of so-called “carousel” voting in different provinces of the country.

In the time leading up to the election, there was a clear contrast in Almaty between the numbers of large posters and billboards promoting the ruling Nur-Otan party and far less visible election materials from other parties in the time leading up to Election Day.

Many internet sites were blocked during the election period, and could only be accessed using proxy servers. Among them were popular blogs such as livejournal.com and wordpress.com, the K Plus online news station and others. Still, some newspapers containing critical materials were available in kiosks.

On 10 January, the Central Election Committee disqualified two high-profiled candidates from the Social-Democratic Party, Bulat Abilov and Guljan Ergalieva. Although previously registered as candidates by CEC, they were later disqualified due to alleged technical errors in some of the documents submitted for registration, a move NHC fears may rather be linked to the candidates’ recent statements.

The candidates connected their disqualification to their statements on the events in Zhanaozen, and their work as part of the Civil Committee to investigate these events where more than 16 people were killed in unrest following a 6 month long strike by oil-workers. Ergalieva posted an open letter to President Nazarbaev on her website, listing what she says are flawed arguments for her disqualification. Some other candidates declared that they would withdraw their own candidacy as a response to the disqualification of their colleagues.

The timing of the elections has also been a topic of criticism from opposition parties. The short time-frame to prepare has given Nur Otan an advantage, as this party has greater resources available and up until now has been the only party in Parliament. Also, the elections coincide with the widely celebrated 20-year anniversary for the independence of Kazakhstan, which means that television has spent a lot of time on the successes of the current government and President Nazarbaev over these two decades. Furthermore, the election comes immediately after a long period of holidays. 

Voter turn-out was high across the country, ranging from 71% in Pavlodar province to 92,6% in Almatinskiy Province. The turn-out was lowest in the two largest cities of the country, Almaty and Astana, with 41,38% and 53,32% turn-out respectively. Some observers connect the relatively low turn-out in the cities to the fact that students have left the cities for holidays which are to last until the end of the month, and that voter behavior is different in well-educated areas such as big cities.

Preliminary results from the Central Election Committee in Kazakhstan show that the ruling Nur-Otan has received 80, 74% of the votes. While the final results are not yet available, there are indications that three parties may be represented in the parliament in the future, as both Ak Zhol and the People’s Communist Party appear to have passed the 7-percent threshold required to win seats, gaining 7,46% and 7,2% respectively. Four remaining parties appear to fall under the threshold.