Vote in Kazakhstan Yields Controversy
Foreign observers and opposition parties say the ex-Soviet republic's first `democratic election' violated international treaties. Government officials deny the charges.
KAZAKHSTAN'S first contested parliamentary elections, in which a clear majority of the seats were won by supporters of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, were unfair and violated international treaties, according to foreign observers and opposition parties.
A delegation of observers from the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the existence of a ``state list'' violated CSCE agreements. The delegation criticized the campaign for unfairly disqualifying opposition candidates, curtailing press freedom, denying foreign observers access to some polling stations, and allowing individuals to vote in place of family members.
Karotai Turisov, chairman of the Central Election Commission, sought to play down allegations of foul play in Monday's ballot. He said that SNEK, an acronym for the pro-Nazarbayev Union of People's Unity of Kazakhstan, won more seats than any other party because it legitimately gained more votes.
``We think the elections were fair and democratic,'' Mr. Turisov said in a telephone interview from Alma Ata, the capital. He added that about 75 percent of the 9.1 million electorate turned up at the polls.
``These observers should keep in mind that democracy is judged by the social-economic level of that country, so you can't compare Kazakhstan with Western Europe,'' he said. ``We voted one way for 70 years, and then they expect us in three months to do everything completely different.''
Official results released yesterday showed that SNEK had won 30 seats in the new 177-seat parliament. Independent candidates, most of whom support Mr. Nazarbayev's policies, won 60 seats, while opposition candidates gained only 23. Another 42 seats were direct presidential appointees, while the official Federal Trade Unions took 11 seats. The remaining 11 seats were unclear.
Kazakhstan, a sprawling, resource-rich nation of more than 17 million people, is seeking to establish its claim to be a democracy by holding elections. Its new parliament will replace the former Communist-dominated one, which dissolved itself last December.
Critics have accused Nazarbayev, the former Communist Party chief, of tacitly sanctioning everything from election fraud to personal and ethnic favoritism. He has received more than $1 billion in aid from the West because of his commitment to market reforms and pledges to continue dismantling nuclear weapons.
CSCE delegation head Jan van Houwelingen said that up to 50 percent of the electorate had cast ballots for others as well as themselves. He said candidates who supported Nazarbayev had been given priority in the media.
``The goal of free and fair elections in Kazakhstan was not reached,'' Mr. van Houwelingen told a press conference in Alma Ata, the Izvestia newspaper reported. ``The general assessment of the CSCE parliamentary assembly was that the elections did not meet internationally accepted standards for free and fair elections.''
United States observer Eric Rudenshiold of the International Republican Institute agreed, but said he was now actively working with the Central Election Commission. ``They took a pretty bad beating from the CSCE.''
Anatoly Antonov, a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party, said the elections were controlled entirely by Nazarbayev.
The Socialist Party was Nazarbayev's party until he formed SNEK. Members of the party complain that Nazarbayev forced the old parliament to dissolve because it was blocking his attempts at radical reforms.
``The elections were unfair. I share the viewpoint of the CSCE that they were not democratic and did not correspond to international standards,'' Mr. Antonov said. Earlier, Antonov said the elections were marred by reverse discrimination in favor of Kazakhs, who make up about 40 percent of the population. Russians account for about 39 percent, and the rest are a mixture of other nationalities. Only 128 of the parliamentary candidates were Russian, and 566 were Kazakh.
Antonov also believes that actual voter turn-out was ``considerably less'' than that predicted by the Central Election Commission. ``We don't think enough people voted to actually validate the elections,'' he said.