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The US Department of State comments on serious shortcomings of the Kazakh election

23.08.2007 11:28 msk


Politics Kazakhstan

The US is highly critical of the snap parliamentary election in Kazakhstan last Saturday won by the pro-presidential Nur Otan party. Unlike the OSCE, official Washington condemns the electoral system of Kazakhstan rather than the course of the election.

Gonzalo Gallegos of the US Department of State was extremely negative in his assessment of the election in Kazakhstan that had left the opposition without a single seat on the legislature last Saturday. Gallegos mentioned numerous shortcomings including "the 7% barrier and the fact that a non-elected body [Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan handpicked by the president himself - Kommersant] appoints 9 lawmakers of the lower house of the parliament numbering 107 deputies." The United States has therefore shared the generally negative opinion of the election aired by OSCE observers. These latter condemned the snap parliamentary election in Kazakhstan as a failure from the standpoint of international standards and practices: violations of bulletin counting procedures were discovered at 40% of the polling stations OSCE observers visited.

There is, however, a serious difference in how the OSCE and official Washington treat the Kazakh election. It was not the election per se that the United States criticized (official of the US Administration even called this latter "a small step in the direction of democracy"). Washington criticized the electoral system of Kazakhstan. As far as the Americans are concerned, all major setbacks and shortcomings are inherent in the recently amended Constitution of the republic the election was organized in accordance with.

Formally initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, amendments to the Constitution were supposed to expand the powers of the parliament and boost the role of political parties. The amendments strengthened the presidential power instead, and the election the other day proves it. Now that the lower house of the parliament comprises only the deputies elected by party lists of candidates, it is much easier for the authorities to control the whole process and keep independent lawmakers away. Moreover, abolition of the provision concerning the so called imperative mandate will tighten the grip the ruling party (the only party in the parliament of Kazakhstan now) has on its own deputies. They will have to vote the way they are told by the party or rather by its leader, the president. The new parliament elected last Saturday will be more than merely pro-presidential. It will be absolutely tame and obedient. Its term of office will expire in 2012, same as Nazarbayev's who is nevertheless permitted to run for president again and again.

In the meantime, Yevgeny Zhovtis of the International Bureau for Human Rights in Kazakhstan emphasized deficiencies of the Kazakh electoral system too, yesterday. "We know the results even before the voting," he said, "because parties of the opposition do not even run for the parliament." All of that must have caused the sharply negative reaction in Washington which had been viewing the snap parliamentary election in Kazakhstan as a kind of test of Astana's adequacy as the OSCE chairman in 2009.

Also interesting, CPRF leader Gennadi Zyuganov agreed with the US Department of State for a change. Zyuganov called formation of a single-party parliament in Kazakhstan a return to a totalitarian state. "It is not a parliament, it is a return to the era of khans that should have become history already," Zyuganov said. "Not even the CPSU managed it, once."

Nazarbayev's advisors and confidants are apparently aware of the dangers posed by a single-party parliament. Yesterday, Kazakhstanskaya Pravda featured a piece by Yermuhamed Yertysbayev, Culture and Information Minister and political scientist from the president's inner circle, in which he tried to explain to the opposition why it had failed in the election. Yertysbayev pinned the blame on the lack of unity in the opposition and (a "fundamental error") on its determination to "challenge the head of state" backed by 91% of the population in the recent election.

The authorities of Kazakhstan will clearly try to have several parties of the opposition merge into a single structure, one that will know its place in the greater scheme of things. As soon as they are convinced that it does, the authorities may even permit this structure to make the parliament.

Gennadi Sysoev

Kommersant, August 22, 2007, p. 6. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru