December 5, 2005

Kazakh leader re-elected, but poll flawed

By Dmitry Solovyov

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's President Nursultan
Nazarbayev won re-election by a landslide on Monday, but
international observers branded the vote flawed, citing ballot
box stuffing and the intimidation of opposition campaigners.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said its 460 monitors
had noted some improvements but the many flaws "limited the
possibility for a meaningful competition."

"There was harassment, intimidation and detentions of
campaign staff and supporters of opposition candidates,
including cases of beatings of campaign staff," the OSCE said.

Nazarbayev, in power in the Central Asian state since 1989,
looked set to shrug off the criticism. The opposition stopped
short of calling for protests due to laws -- criticised by the
OSCE -- banning them.

Opposition challenger Zharmarkhan Tuyakbai told reporters
in Almaty the result "is an obvious sign that our country is
turning from an authoritarian regime into a totalitarian one."

The vote means Nazarbayev will rule for another seven
years, a reassuring signal to big oil investors in the United
States, China and Russia who have negotiated billions of
dollars of contracts with him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a close ally, was the
first foreign leader to phone to congratulate him. Russian
observers gave the vote a clean bill of health.

"The (Russian observers') methodology appears to be: be
nice to your friends," Bruce George, head of the OSCE mission,
told reporters. He said he was expressing a personal view.

In Astana, the capital that he built, Nazarbayev said the
vote was clean and made clear he believed he had put a stop to
the "people's revolutions" that have deposed veteran leaders in
Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

"We're talking not about revolutions but evolutions," he
told reporters. "Kazakhstan voted for calmness and stability."

Nazarbayev dismissed any suggestion that the Soviet-style
margin of victory -- 91 percent against less than 7 percent for
the main opposition challenger -- was in any way suspect in a
country that has never held a vote judged free and fair.


The OSCE report noted many flaws including restrictions on
campaigning, people interfering in polling stations, multiple
voting, pressure on students to vote, media bias in favor of
Nazarbayev and legal restrictions on freedom of expression.

"The voting was generally calm and peaceful, but the
process deteriorated during the count, which was viewed as bad
or very bad in one out of four counts observed," it said.

Nazarbayev came to power as the Communist Party chief in
Kazakhstan. Then he won presidential elections in 1991 with
98.8 percent of the vote, and in 1999 with 79.8 percent.

Despite his patchy democratic record and an authoritarian
streak, he has maintained warm relations with the West, former
imperial master Russia and China, a rising power in the region.

The country is forecast to become one of the world's top 10
oil producers in the next decade as it develops new offshore
oil fields in the Caspian Sea.

The opposition has accused the West of putting Kazakhstan's
oil before democracy. Visiting Western leaders usually come to
praise Nazarbayev for economic reforms and political stability
-- his own favorite themes -- rather than criticize his record.

Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has reversed economic decline
after the collapse of the Soviet Union and reformed its

But it has also been plagued by corruption scandals,
opposition parties have been closed down, and several
politicians and an anti-corruption reporter have been jailed.

(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov, Maria Golovnina
and Michael Steen in Almaty)