Threesome for new Kazakh parliament

Kazakhstan is on the verge of a new political chapter. Exit polls show that three parties are heading into the lower house. Until now, the president's group held all the seats, and is still on course for a huge majority.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party will still hold a majority in the newly-elected parliament, winning 80.75 per cent of the seats, according to preliminary results. Two other parties passing the 7-per cent threshold are the democratic Ak Zhol party and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan.

The voting had an unexpectedly high turnout, with some 75 per cent of the population showing up to the polling stations, which was 10 per cent more than the previous parliamentary election in 2007.

International observers voiced split opinion on the election. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization said it was legitimate, free and fair, and assured that some technical faults it witnessed had no major impact on the voting. A similar statement came from the Commonwealth of Independent States, which said all Kazakh citizens with rights to vote had their opportunity to do so.

At the same time Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) denounced it as not completely free. Its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said it noticed positive changes in Kazakhstan, but added that it expected more from the country, which was the first in the region to chair OSCE.

Kazakhstan elected new parliamentary members early after the body was dissolved last autumn by Nazarbayev. The president said he wanted the legislative body to become more democratic and not consist of his supporters only, as had been the case. He also sponsored amendments to the country’s election law, prohibiting a one-party parliament.

Among the first issues the legislators will tackle is forming the new government.

Nazarbayev has been in power in Kazakhstan for 22 years now. Some political experts say he wants partial liberalization in the country as a pre-emptive measure against public uprising similar to last year’s “Arab Spring”.

In fact Kazakhstan saw violent clashes in December between police and striking oil workers. The riots, which resulted in 17 people being killed, were quashed by the government. The state of emergency declared in the region back then has not been lifted even now.

This did not affect the voting process in the regional capital Zhanaozen, however, according to US observers. They said the only problem election organizers faced in the city was a high turnout.

As investigation into the violence was underway, Nazarbayev fired several of his top allies, which the public saw responsible for the tension. Apparently, the moves managed to quell discontent in Kazakhstan, and the president passed the test of confidence, as many people saw the parliamentary election.