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Presidential party leads in Kazakh parliamentary election

The count is underway in Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections. Exit polls show that two parties have crossed the 7% threshold needed for seats in the assembly. Nur Otan, the party headed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is in the lead.

Preliminary reports show over 60% of voters visited the polling stations, which is about 10% higher than at the previous parliamentary elections in 2004.

The elections have been held early because of constitutional reforms introduced by the Kazakh President.  He delegated some of his powers to parliament including the right to choose the country's prime minister.

Oil-rich Kazakhstan, the most stable and prosperous of the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, has been voting for a new parliament in an election closely watched for signs of commitment to democracy.  

Previous elections in Kazakhstan have been assessed as less than free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or the OSCE.  

President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President Nursultan Nazarbayev

This means something to the President. Having ruled for 18 years, Nursultan Nazarbayev is very keen to see his country lead the OSCE in 2009. To get what he wants, he needs the poll to be seen as free and fair.  

In this election 107 seats of the lower house of parliament are at stake.

Kazakhstan has a population of over 15 MLN people, of which nine million – many of them young – are eligible voters.

A third of voters can use electronic voting instead of paper ballots for the first time. Russia may start using a similar system in parliamentary elections this December.  

“The difference is in the balloting form: it contains less information than the Russian one. There is also a wider use of electronic voting systems. They use the same scheme of the electronic voting system as we do, but on a broader scale. In October we are going to meet and share experiences to decide if we will enlarge the number of such elements during our elections,” Vladimir Churov, the chairman of Russia's Central Election Committee, commented.

Seven parties are competing in this election, and each needs at least 7 % to win a seat in Parliament.

Exit polls suggest Nur-Otan or the Fatherland's Ray of Light – the largest political party which supports the President – is the overwhelming preference of the voters.

Recently the authorities introduced new election laws, which they claim enhance the country's democracy. The main changes include strengthening Parliament's role, decreasing the presidential term to 5 years, making the government accountable not only to the President but to the whole Parliament, and allowing the incumbent no limit on presidential terms.

Some analysts suggest there will be no surprise results in this election.

However, some say the biggest fear for the ruling party is apathy – the possibility that people won't vote as the outcome seems predictable.