Special Issue No 2, August 22, 2007
Elections to a new, party-based Parliament in Kazakhstan
provide landslide victory for “Nur Otan”
On Saturday, 18 August, landmark parliamentary elections opening way for a new, more powerful and influential legislature were held in Kazakhstan.
According to the preliminary report of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the ruling “Nur Otan” party emerged victorious from the elections, winning 88.05% of the vote. However, this figure is still to be revised after the CEC completes the counting of all election protocols.
Preliminary results suggest that “Nur Otan” could be the only party to have passed the 7 per cent threshold set by the existing election legislation. According to CEC’s data, 5,174,169 people have cast their votes for “Nur Otan”, i.e. 88.05 per cent; 271,525 voters (4.62 per cent) have voted for the Nationwide Social Democratic Party; 44,175 voters (0.75 per cent) have chosen the Party of Patriots; 192,155 voters (3.27 per cent) have voiced their support for the “Ak Zhol” party; 77,274 people (1.31 per cent) have cast their votes for the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan; 93,023 (1.58 per cent) have voted for the “Auyl” party; and 24,308 (0.41 per cent) for the “Rukhaniyat” party.
“At every election, there are winners and losers, but this time, I believe, all Kazakhstanis have won,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in the capital Astana while giving his comments on Nur Otan’s victory.
“Unfortunately other parties were not able to pass the 7 per cent barrier,” President Nazarbayev said. “But we won’t make this result into tragedy. Efficiency of the parliament will not suffer, I am sure. We are going to take into account constructive proposals of the opposition, which have been voiced in the course of the election campaign; we will accommodate interests of our citizens who voted in favour of other parties”.
Shocking defeat of the opposition prompted early criticism on behalf of a number of foreign officials and journalists. Ambassador Lubomir Kopaj, who heads the long-term election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said the results showed Kazakhstan still needs to improve further its election process. "I have never seen a democratic country with one political party in Parliament," he mentioned at a press conference in Astana.
However, the OSCE mission in general seemed to be rather positive in its preliminary report: “The 18 August 2007 elections for the Majilis (lower house) of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan took place soon after major amendments to the Constitution and the Election Law, including the introduction of a new election system based on proportional representation. While these elections reflected welcome progress in the pre-election process and during the conduct of the vote, a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards were not met, in particular with regard to elements of the new legal framework and to the vote count.”
“There was an increased ability for political parties to convey their messages to voters, including through the media, and the central election administration worked transparently. However, a number of the new legal provisions conflict with OSCE commitments. On election day, the voting was assessed in positive terms; however, the process deteriorated during the counting of the votes,” the OSCE report reads.
Senator Consiglio Di Nino, Special Co-Ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers and Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation, also believes that Kazakh democracy’s glass is half-full: “A campaign environment was certainly, clearly a step forward. Parties were generally free to make their views known to the voters in an open atmosphere like in the television debates. The collaboration from the Central Electoral Commission was very good. On voting day there was an almost unanimous agreement among the observers in their positive evaluation of the voting procedures. They praised the professionalism of the officials and the elections were very well-organised,” he said at a press conference in Astana.
“This positive assessment (from the international observers mission), the first that our country has received, shows that Kazakhstan is moving in the right direction in its political reforms,” President Nazarbayev said.
The United States is one of Kazakhstan’s major partners in its democracy-building efforts, and American reaction to the elections clearly shows that the Central Asian country is consistently moving towards fulfilling its democratization promise. As Mr. Gonzalo Gallegos, Director of State Department’s Office of Press Relations, stressed at a briefing in Washington DC “we take note of Kazakhstan's commitment to improve the election process and the central election committee’s work to increase the transparency and integrity of the elections”.
He went on to cite some remaining difficulties, including “legal provisions such as high threshold of seven per cent for party representation in the parliament, the process by which victorious parties chose deputies from their list and the fact that an unelected body appoints nine of the 107 seats in the lower house of parliament”.
Nevertheless, the State Department spokesman seemed to be optimistic about the ability of Kazakhstan’s Government to deliver further progress: “We hope that the Government of Kazakhstan will address these shortcomings as it continues to reform the elections law and promptly and fairly resolves any complaints and appeals related to violations of that law”.
The “unelected body” referred to by Mr. Gallegos, is the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, which duly represents and promotes the interests of numerous ethnic minorities living in the country. Kazakhstan is known for providing interethnic peace and harmony in a potentially explosive region, and the Assembly’s efficient work is one of the underlying reasons for such a success.
In the situation where an unexpectedly high wave of popular support raised “Nur Otan” to the position of the only party in the parliament, nine representatives of the Assembly have a very important task to fulfil. Apart from pursuing minorities’ interests at the official level, members of non-partisan Assembly should serve as a fraction of civil society embodied in the country’s legislature, thus providing a channel for making the voice of non-partisan groups heard in the parliament.
Reasons for opposition’s fiasco
As US observers, Mr. Daniel Witt and Mr. Douglas Townsend, mentioned at a meeting with the press in Astana, “the people of Kazakhstan cast their votes for the President of Kazakhstan in 2005, and yesterday they voted in favour of the party led by Nursultan Nazarbayev”.
Favourable comments from foreign observers leave no space for doubts that, whatever the remaining difficulties, Nur Otan’s victory was genuine and fair and Kazakh voters have made their choice thoughtfully and deliberately.
For instance, Mr. Rein Mullerson, professor of law from London’s Kings College, called the elections open and fair and Mr. Nirj Deva, British Member of the European Parliament, found the progress achieved by Kazakhstan in democracy-building astonishing. “I have seen eight elections in various countries, and I would like to note that transformations of Kazakhstan’s political system surprise me much. We regard Kazakhstan as the leader in the Central Asian region. In such a short period of time Kazakhstan has made a significant step towards democracy. The British Parliament was formed 900 years ago. And you have managed to build stable and successfully developing society in 15 years time. I like the way the elections were held in Kazakhstan”, Mr. Nirj Deva said.
A resounding defeat of the opposition in the most open and fair elections seen in the country’s history can hardly be explained this time in terms of “pressure” or “falsifications”. There may be some other, deep-lying reasons for their fiasco.
It is widely believed in Kazakhstan that the opposition parties have failed to unite and put forward a unique and viable strategy for the country’s development. Nur Otan’s victory proved that voters in Kazakhstan prefer a clear “picture” of their future and have made their choice in favour of the balanced and realistic program of “Nur Otan”. The political system of Kazakhstan is clearly maturing and the current elections turned out to be a competition of political platforms.
Opposition parties have failed this time. They have overestimated their clout and their reach to the public. Election results are a clear signal to them to reinvigorate themselves and mature to be able to represent genuinely the “general will” of the people and to govern.
News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Contact person: Askar Tazhiev
Tel.: 202-232-5488 ext 106; Fax: 202-232-5845