Guide to political parties, observers in Kazakh election
January 11. Universal Newswires
By Dena Sholk
As Kazakhstan gears up for parliamentary elections on Sunday, Central Asia Newswire takes a look at the critical parties, players, and events surrounding the polls.
The 2012 parliamentary elections, moved up from their originally planned August date, are significant, in that they are the first elections that will mandate the inclusion of another party in the final makeup of the country’s legislature.
Previously, the law stated that parties must pass the 7 percent threshold to be included in the Mazhilis. No party ever reached that mark, thus leaving the legislature a one-party house.
Kazakh Political Parties
Nur Otan Party
The Fatherland party is the party of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and currently the only political party represented in the Mazhilis and in the Senate. In the 2007 elections, Nur Otan won over 88 percent of the votes. Because all other political parties failed to meet the required 7 percent threshold, as per the electoral law on the books at that time, Nur Otan secured every seat in parliament.
For Sunday’s elections, the Nur Otan party has presented a party list of 127 candidates, including the president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayev. It is also worth noting that 48 of current Nu Otan deputies are on the list.
Azat, the Free Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, is the only opposition party. On January 4, politicians Nurlan Ayshimbayev, Marat Rgaliyev, Nurlan Chudabayev, and Ermek Murzakhmetov announced they were leaving the Azat party to join the pro-regime AkZhol party. The Azat party list, according to a December 22 report from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), includes 54 candidates.
Azat merged with the All National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) in October 2009.
The Aul (Village) Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan represents rural and agricultural interests. The official party platform calls for an annual allotment of KZT 180-220 billion ($1.2-1.5 billion) towards addressing economic and social problems in villages. The Aul party list is comprised of 18 candidates.
Adilet Democratic Party of Kazakhstan
According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Adilet Democratic Party of Kazakhstan calls for the development of a “legal democratic social state, creation of the effective, advanced and progressive economic system, [and] formation of a civil society.”
The party registered in June 2004 with 70,000 members In July 2007, Adilet joined the “Ak Zhol” Democratic Party for the 2007 parliamentary elections. For the 2012 parliamentary elections, Adilet has presented a party list of 59 Mazhilis candidates.
On January 5, all ten of Adilet candidates for the Almaty akimat were rejected by the city’s local tax authorities.
The Patriot Party of Kazakhstan (PPK)
The PPK party list consists of 20 candidates. During the April 2011 presidential elections, PPK Chairman Gani Kasymov ran for office, garnering 1.9 percent of the votes according to the CEC, a distant second place to President Nazarbayev.
Ak Zhol Party
The Ak Zhol has been considered by some to be an opposition party, but in actuality is a group that represents business interests. Timur Kulibayev, former head of Samruk-Kazyna and son-in-law of President Nazarbayev, is viewed as close with Ak Zhol party. The Ak Zhol party list includes 60 candidates. At the party caucus meeting in late November, Aul leader Azat Peruashev, who has since defected to join Ak Zhol, stated he expects the party to garner some 20 percent of the vote.
The Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (CPPK)
At the time of registration in June 2004, the CPPK membership totaled 56,292. CPPK candidate Zhambyl Ahmetbekov ran for president in the April 2011 election and managed to secure 1.4 percent of the votes. The CPPK party list includes 21 candidates.
The party will not be competing in the elections, due to a court ruling in October 2011 barring the party from political activity for six months.
On December 29, the CEC banned the registration of Rukhaniyat party candidates when Prosecutor General’s office brought forward charges of technical violations in the procedure of nominating candidates. The Prosecutor General’s office argued that there was an absence of a quorum in the Republic Committee of the Rukhaniyat Party necessary for nominating candidates to a party list. Additionally, Rukhaniyat regional chapters failed to convene meetings to nominate delegates.
The deregistration of the Rukhaniyat party has “raised concerns” in the OSCE of “whether due process has been fully observed.” Meanwhile, Rukhaniyat’s leaders have argued that they believe the deregistration of their party was caused by their criticism of law enforcement agencies’ handling of the events in Zhanaozen after the December 16 violence.
Barring Rukhaniyat from the election is symbolically significant, as it underlines the lack of opportunity for opposition groups in Kazakhstan’s parliamentary election, but will have little statistical significance as the party only garnered 0.37 percent of the 2007 vote.
Prior to the party’s deregistration, the Rukhaniyat party list included 27 candidates.
CEC strikes several candidates from ballot list
On Tuesday, the CEC announced that a number of MPs from several parties would be struck from the ballot list for falsely reporting false information on their income and property holdings in their candidacy applications.
The list includes Nur Otan’s Vladimir Bobrov; Azat leader Bolat Abilov and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva; Adilet’s Mahabbat Zhutaeva; and PPL leader Dauren Kaiypov.
In lead-up polls conducted by a variety of polling groups, Nur Otan has an overwhelming lead, followed by Ak Zhol.
A study conducted by the Institute of Social and Political Studies (ISPS) published by the Kazakh foreign ministry on Friday surveyed 2,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 60 about their political party preferences. According to survey results, 80.9 percent of individuals supported Nur Otan, 7.5 percent favored Ak Zhol, and 4.1 percent favored the ASDP.
Another poll from the Institute for Social and Political Research put public support of Nur Otan at 77.5 percent, with Ak Zhol second with 7.5 percent.
It is worth noting that Kazakhstan has a closed-party list PR system whereas most states recognized as a democracy by the OSCE maintain open-party lists in a PR system. The closed-list system only allows citizens to elect parties, rather than individuals. The party leadership then determines the ranking of candidates, ultimately leaving the decision in the hands of elites.
In an open-list system, citizens have greater influence in deciding the order of ranking on a party list. The continuation of a closed-party list reveals that Kazakhstan has more work to do in the area of democratic reforms, despite the fact that it very recently served as chair of the OSCE.
As of January 5, the CEC accredited 695 international observers. Registration of observers from foreign states and organizations continued through January 9.
To its credit, Kazakhstan has a history of allowing foreign monitors to observe the elections. However, not all of the observer groups come to the same assessment of the country’s elections.
The disparity was most evident during the 2011 presidential elections. Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Organization for Islamic States (OIC), and CSTO Parliamentary Assembly all concluded that the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner. SCO observers cited no election violations.
Even the most democratic states have glitches in their electoral processes, so the fact that these election monitoring groups found so few problems in the Kazakh polls dent their credibility in assessing the approaching parliamentary polls.
The world’s foremost democracy grouping, the OSCE, had a different take on the 2011 elections. The organization noted an improved media environment and the professional manner in which the elections were carried out.
Meanwhile, OSCE monitors cited various issues, which included a “restrictive media environment which includes self-censorship”, and argued that the “adjucation of election disputes lacked transparency, due process and well-reasoned decision-making.”
For the current election, Kazakhstan’s ministry of foreign affairs says there are 292 observers from the OSCE/ODIHR mission, 257 from the CIS, 11 from the SCO Observer Mission, nine from the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, four from the OIC, 10 from TURKPA, and an additional 112 independent observers representing 29 countries.
Ironically, the two largest observer groups, the OSCE and the CIS, represent opposites of the political spectrum. The OSCE is looking to ensure the elections are carried out in a free and fair environment and the vote-tallying process is transparent and free from distortions, while CIS monitors are not known to cast a critical eye on elections in the post-Soviet realm.
On Friday, the OSCE released a report documenting Nur Otan’s disproportionate advantages during the election campaign season. They cited a lack of transparency involved in the candidate registration process. The report also notes how the election campaign has been “overshadowed” by the Zhanaozen events.
CIS observers have been present at every election in Kazakhstan since 2001. During Kazakhstan’s presidential elections last April, CIS observers hailed from autocratic states such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus. The CIS has agreed to monitor Turkmenistan’s presidential elections in February, in which incumbent Gurbanbaly Berdimuhamedov will certainly win in an electoral contest largely regarded as a sham.
The CIS election monitors, in contrast to the OSCE, have provided positive feedback as Kazakhstan approaches election day.
After meeting with Almaty authorities, Oleg Kuleba, Head of the CIS Election Observation Mission praised the “highly meticulous” quality of the city’s preparatory work. Kuleba also was impressed by the “serious and professional attitude of city, precinct and district electoral commissions towards the process.”
At this point, the number of political players can change at any point in time. Considering that President Nazarbayev reversed his earlier decision to bar Zhanaozen residents to vote with only five days to go before polls opened, it is not implausible that voters will see additional changes to the number of candidates, parties, and observers in the next few days.
Dena Sholk is studying at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and spent part of last year living and conducting research in Kazakhstan.