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Kazakhstan vote fails key democracy test, say officials (+video)

The oil-rich former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan has yet to hold an election that Western observers agree is fair, despite 20 years of democracy.

By Correspondent / January 17, 2012

A Kazakh woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty, on Sunday. Voters cast ballots Sunday in the oil-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan in elections that are expected to slightly broaden democratic representation in parliament's rubber-stamp lower house.

Anatoly Ustinenko/AP

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International election observers have slammed Sunday's snap parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan as failing to meet the fundamental principles of democracy.

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That verdict could be a painful blow to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who moved the voting forward after oil worker protests shook a city in western Kazakhstan. The elections were a possible effort to improve the country’s international image and avoid an "Arab Spring" type uprising in the oil-rich central Asian republic.

Mr. Nazarbayev hailed the voting as "unprecedented in terms of transparency, openness, and honesty." Although he allowed two opposition parties to gain entry to the country's parliament (Mazhilis), which had formerly been completely dominated by members of the ruling Nur Otan Party, as well as a few independents he selected.

"If Kazakhstan authorities are serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in parliament, then they should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate in this election," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Joao Soares told a press conference in the Kazakh capital of Astana Monday.

According to final election results, Nur Otan won 81 percent of the vote, which will give it 83 deputies in the 107-seat lower house. The pro-government Ak Zhol Party (once led by Nazarbayev’s daughter) won 7.5 percent (8 seats), while the Communist Peoples Party gained by 7.2 percent (seven seats). Other parties failed to clear the 7 percent threshold.

Most opposition parties were barred from participating in the elections, and several candidates who were objectionable to authorities were stricken from the ballot, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which fielded 400 observers.

Opposition party leaders said they had evidence of ballot stuffing, multiple voting, and coercion of voters, which they said they would post online.

"This election took place in a tightly controlled environment, with serious restrictions on citizens’ electoral rights," Miklos Haraszti, head of the OSCE office for democratic institutions and human rights added. "Genuine pluralism does not need the orchestration we have seen. Respect for fundamental freedoms will bring it about by itself."

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