Kazakh leader's party wins vote criticized by Western monitors

ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party won 82 percent of the vote in Sunday’s snap parliamentary election criticized by Western observers as falling short of democratic standards, preliminary figures showed on Monday.

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Nazarbayev, 75, congratulated his party at a “victors’ forum” event in Astana where he walked triumphantly to the stage as thousands of youths dressed in his party’s blue and yellow colors chanted: “Nursultan! Nur Otan!”

“This is a great accomplishment of our democracy,” he said.

The election could open the door for Nazarbayev’s daughter Dariga to enter parliament under a party list, a move that would fuel speculation about her as a possible future leader.

The result is unlikely to surprise anyone in the oil-rich Central Asian nation Nazarbayev has run since 1989, brooking little dissent. It has never held an election judged free and fair by Western observers.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote had fallen short of commitments for democratic elections.

“It is clear that Kazakhstan still has a long way to go towards fulfilling its election commitments, although some progress was noted,” Marietta Tidei, OSCE Special Co-ordinator for the election observation, told reporters.

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“The ruling party had a clear advantage over others in these elections, and while the parties were generally able to campaign freely, genuine political choice remains insufficient.”


Nazarbayev called the vote in January, apparently favoring an early election in case the economy, hit hard by the slump in the price of oil, were to worsen in the course of the year.

The Central Election Commission said two other parties, the Communists and Ak Zhol, had passed the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats, meaning that the lower house, the Mazhilis, will include the same three parties as before.

Three other parties, the Social Democrats - who denounced the poll as rigged - as well as Birlik (Unity) and Auyl (Village), won less than 7 percent each.

Still unclear is the makeup of Nur Otan’s faction, as it has a list of 127 candidates vying for places in the 107-seat Mazhilis.

Observers are focusing, in particular, on the president’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who is deputy prime minister and also on the party list as a candidate.

Her potential move to parliament, where she could become the speaker of the lower house, would be interpreted as a step towards an eventual transition of power to her.

Nazarbayev said on Sunday the vote was unlikely to result in a major reshuffle of cabinet ministers.

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Ralph Boulton