Tue, Jan 17, 2012 - Page 5 News List

New parties win parliament seats in Kazakhstan

CRACKS IN THE EDIFICE:Despite official claims of a fair election, government critics complained about the tactics deployed to prevent them taking part

Reuters, ASTANA

Three parties won entry to Kazakhstan’s parliament, election results showed yesterday, a small concession to democracy by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev after deadly clashes in a mutinous oil town shook the Central Asian state’s image of stability.

Nur Otan, the ruling party of the long-serving leader, won a landslide victory, as expected, with 81 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election. Two other parties, broadly sympathetic to the government, got over the 7 percent threshold to enter parliament.

By finishing second, the pro-business Ak Zhol Party would have won seats regardless of whether it cleared the threshold after changes to the electoral law guaranteed the end of the one-party chamber.

Ak Zhol polled 7.5 percent and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan 7.2 percent. Turnout among the 9.3 million registered voters was 75 percent, the Central Election Commission said.

Nazarbayev, 71, hailed his party’s victory as a sign of national unity one month after protests by sacked oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen erupted into clashes that killed at least 16 people.

“Someone or other wanted to turn this to their advantage, to use the Zhanaozen events for political gain,” Nazarbayev said. “Residents of Zhanaozen gave their answer: nearly 70 percent voted for Nur Otan,” he said to rapturous applause at a victory rally in a sports center attended by thousands of party members.

Nazarbayev overruled a -decision by the Constitutional Council to cancel the election in Zhanaozen, part of a public show of support for the oil workers after the riots. He also fired several high-ranking officials, including his son-in-law.

The decision to allow parties other than Nur Otan into parliament appears designed to create a veneer of democracy and ease frustration over the unequal distribution of oil riches in the former Soviet republic ruled by Nazarbayev since 1989.

“The gap between rich and poor is too big. We shouldn’t have splendor and squalor side-by-side,” said Valentina, a pensioner in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital and largest city Almaty, where voter turnout of 41 percent was the lowest in the country.

Stability in Kazakhstan had been upset by a series of Islamist-inspired attacks even before the riots in Zhanaozen, which also spread to other parts of the Mangistau region.

Kazakhstan’s leaders are also wary after mass protests greeted a disputed election last month in Russia, still the country’s biggest trading partner and a cultural reference point for its millions of Russian-speaking citizens.

Despite official claims of a transparent election, critics of Nazarbayev have cried foul after being excluded from the vote. Politician Bolat Abilov said his All-National Social Democratic Party was the only true opposition party represented.

Abilov was removed from his party list for an incomplete asset declaration. His party polled 1.6 percent to finish fourth of seven parties.

Social Democratic Party -secretary-general Amirzhan Kosanov, said he doubted the veracity of the polls.

“If there are mass falsifications, we will express our views in a protest against this sort of election,” he said.

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