Shaken Kazakhstan prepares to vote after clashes


Kazakhstan suspended campaigning on Saturday as it prepared to go to the polls to elect parliament to breathe new life into tightly-controlled politics in the energy-rich Central Asian nation.
Sunday’s elections to the lower house of parliament whose seats are all occupied by loyalists of the ruling Nur Otan party come one month after 16 people were killed in the energy-rich region of Mangistau in unprecedented clashes between oil workers and security forces.
Strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on the eve of the polls that the make-up of a new parliament would open a new era in the country’s monochrome political life.
“As a result of the election, parliament will be represented by at least two parties,” said 71-year-old Nazarbayev, who has ruled over the energy-rich nation of over 16 million since 1989 and is the only president post-Soviet Kazakhstan has ever known.
“This is a new political phase of the country’s development. We will work with all political parties in a constructive manner.”
Authorities banned all campaigning and publication of polls for a “day of silence” so as not to influence voters ahead of Sunday’s election.
Seven parties are contesting the polls but critics say the vote is expected to provide just a veneer of democratic representation to the parliament as the two parties expected to win the most votes are both loyal to the president.
According to the Institute for Social-Political Research, Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) should win over 80 percent of the vote — only just off the 88 percent it received in the last polls in 2007.
Its nearest challenger on around seven percent should be the Ak Zhol (Bright Path) party which garners its support mainly from businesspeople and the middle class but steers clear of outright criticism of Nazarbayev.
The opposition All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), which is expected to come in third, pledged to bring out people onto the streets if the authorities rigged the election.
“If we are cheated this time around, then there won’t be any more elections in our country, we don’t play these games,” party chairman Zharmakhan Tuyakbai told supporters at a meeting.
“If they lie to us this time, steal people’s votes, we’ll take to the streets.”
The polls will also be stalked by the trauma of the clashes between striking oil workers and police in the Caspian Sea region of Mangistau which exposed the inability of the authorities to solve a months-long labour dispute.
The opposition and international observers condemned the conduct of the April 2011 presidential election which saw Nazarbayev win over 95 percent of the vote in a poll where even one of his rivals voted for the Kazakh strongman.
A total of 9.2 million registered voters will choose 98 deputies in the 107-seat Mazhilis, with the other nine MPs representing Kazakhstan’s various ethnic groups chosen by its assembly of the peoples.