August 19, 2005

Kazakh presidential election set for December

By Raushan Nurshayeva

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakhstan will hold a presidential vote
in December, officials said on Friday, in a poll likely to be
won by President Nursultan Nazarbayev but which could spark
protests if declared flawed.

Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan, a vast but sparsely
populated country with rapidly growing oil production, since
1989. The Central Asian state has not held an election judged
free and fair by Western poll monitors.

Its Constitutional Council, made up of former justice
officials, said it believed the vote should be held on the
first Sunday of December, December 4. The decision must be
formally confirmed by parliament.

Kazakh presidential elections must be held in December
every seven years according to the constitution.

Rigged elections in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan --
three other former Soviet states -- led to popular unrest in
those countries which unseated long-serving rulers.

And in an apparent sign of nerves, Kazakhstan has banned
protests immediately after the polls and, according to leaked
ministerial letters, police have bought thousands of guns,
extra flak jackets, helmets and grenades.

Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov has said the mass
protests in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last year called for
preventive measures in Kazakhstan, according to one of the
letters leaked by an opposition senator in June.

Although Nazarbayev's popularity remains high, growing
dissatisfaction with a stagnant political climate among some in
the elite has created a more effective opposition that has said
it will unite behind a single candidate to challenge


"The very nature of the system of power created by you
prevents free and fair elections," Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the
opposition challenger, wrote to Nazarbayev in an open letter on

Tuyakbai, a former Nazarbayev loyalist who switched sides
after a flawed parliamentary poll last September, accused
officials of being behind beatings of members of the For A Just
Kazakhstan opposition movement.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,
which monitored last September's poll, outlined a range a flaws
including pressure on government officials, teachers, doctors
and other state employees to vote for pro-Nazarbayev parties.

Nazarbayev, who is due next week to answer questions from
the public in a televised live phone-in, has said his country
is not yet ready for Western-style democracy and his main aim
is to guard against instability spreading through the region.

The "bloodless revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia were
widely seen in Russia and the other former Soviet states within
its sphere of influence as little more than coups financed with
American money, a charge rejected by the United States.

Nazarbayev, whose rule has been marked by pressure on
independent media and corruption scandals, said in June the
West should "abandon the thought of transporting Western values
100 percent to Kazakhstan."

His last victory came in a vote held early, so his term
expires in January 2006 prompting debate about whether the new
vote should be in December 2005 or December 2006, which the
Constitutional Council was called to resolve.