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Nazarbayev Party Fends Off Rivals to Keep Kazakh Dominance

Kazakh Prezident Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kazakh Prezident Nursultan Nazarbayev casts his ballot at a polling station in Astana. Photographer: Stanislav Filippov/AFP/Getty Images

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s ruling party maintained its dominant role in parliament even as two other parties won seats following the worst violence in the oil-rich nation in 20 years.

Nur Otan garnered 80.74 percent of the vote in yesterday’s election, Kuandik Turgankulov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, told reporters today in the capital, Astana, after 100 percent of votes were counted. The pro-business Akzhol party and the Communists scored above the 7 percent threshold to win seats in the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, he said. Turnout was 75.07 percent.

Nazarbayev, 71, who has ruled the Central Asian state since 1989 in the Soviet era, is seeking to staunch discontent and promote a multiparty system in a nation shaken by mass riots and clashes with the police. The president, speaking at Nur Otan’s campaign headquarters after the vote, said Kazakh citizens voted for “stability, calm, tolerance and friendship of a multinational people.”

“We see the virtual continuation of the political status quo as the only likely scenario,” Julia Tsepliaeva, head of research at BNP Paribas SA in Moscow, said by e-mail today. “At the same time, the political monopoly of Nur Otan has been broken.”

Currency Drops

The tenge weakened for the first time in five days, losing 0.1 percent to 148.38 per dollar as of 7:08 p.m. in Astana. The Kazakh currency has gained less than 0.1 percent against the greenback in 2012, while the Russian ruble has advanced 1.3 percent and Ukraine’s hryvnia has weakened 0.6 percent.

The cost of protecting Kazakh debt against non-payment for five years using credit-default swaps rose three basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 290 basis points, according to data provider CMA, which is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market.

Riots broke out last month in an oil-rich region bordering the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan, killing 16 people and leaving more than 100 injured in the worst violence since the former Soviet republic won independence two decades ago.

Kazakhstan is the second-biggest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia, with output of about 1.6 million barrels a day, about the same as Libya before the uprising that ousted Muammar Qaddafi. It has attracted companies including Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, ConocoPhillips, Total SA, Eni SpA and BG Group Plc.

Change and Modernize

Kazakhstan will change and modernize its political system because of the risk of “large-scale” unrest following the mass riots, Erlan Karin, secretary of the Nur Otan party, said in a Jan. 9 interview.

The vote didn’t “meet fundamental principles of democratic elections,” international monitors said today. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted restrictions placed on political parties and the media, lack of transparency in the counting process and limited public debate, the watchdog’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said today on its website.

Observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a grouping of former Soviet republics, found no violations during the conduct of the vote, Russian state television reported.

No Free Elections

No election in Kazakhstan has ever been deemed “free and fair” by the OSCE. Nur Otan won all the seats in Kazakhstan’s legislature in an August 2007 vote. The election law was changed two years later to ensure that if only one party passes the 7 percent threshold, the party with the second-highest number of votes gets no less than two seats.

“If Kazakhstan is serious about their stated goals of increasing the number of parties in parliament, then the country should have allowed more genuine opposition parties to participate in this election,” said Joao Soares, who led the OSCE observer mission in the country. The vote was “well administered at the technical level,” the watchdog said.

The authorities permitted elections be held in the town of Zhanaozen, where the protests were instigated by oil workers at state-run KazMunaiGas Exploration Production units after disputes over job losses and wages.

‘Rather Actively’

Voting in Zhanaozen proceeded in a “stable situation, calmly and at the same time rather actively,” with turnout of more than 50 percent, Nurdaulet Suindikov, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, told reporters yesterday in Astana.

Nur Otan won 70 percent support in the town, defeating plans to “take political advantage of the unrest,” Nazarbayev was cited as saying today by Novosti-Kazakhstan.

Central Asia’s largest economy probably swelled by 6.5 percent in 2011 and may expand 5.6 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Fitch Ratings raised Kazakhstan’s sovereign credit rating one step to BBB on Nov. 21, level with Russia, as energy exports boosted foreign-currency assets.

“The next 5 to 7 years will be very important” because “we need to stabilize what was achieved and break forward,” said Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga, who represented Nur Otan in the election. That’s why “we need a strong and even malicious parliament.”

Akzhol received 7.46 percent and the Communists 7.2 percent, according to the Central Electoral Commission. The opposition National Social Democratic party got 1.59 percent of the vote.

‘Own Position’

“We have our own position, which we will defend and, if necessary, we’ll enter into tough discussions,” Azat Peruashev, the chairman of Akzhol and former head of a Kazakh business lobbying group, said yesterday. “I wouldn’t have sought to enter parliament only to press buttons silently.”

Bulat Abilov, head of the National Social Democratic Party, or OSDP, and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, another candidate from the only opposition party, were banned from the ballot after filing false reports on their income and property, the electoral commission said Jan. 13 on its website.

“This is the dirtiest elections I saw,” Amirzhan Kosanov, a general secretary at the OSDP, told reporters today in Almaty, the country’s commercial capital. “Public discontent may detonate” after the party was deprived of a role in the legislature, Chairman Zharmakhan Tuyakbay said.

The party doesn’t recognize the election and will seek to have the results annulled, the group said in a statement released today. OSDP leaders called on supporters to join a protest in central Almaty tomorrow.

‘Unprecedented’ Vote

Nazarbayev told supporters after polls closed that the election was “unprecedented for its transparency, openness, fairness.” The president won a new five-year term last April with 95.5 percent backing. He was named “leader of the nation” in 2010, giving him power to dictate policy even after he retires.

The main question is whether the legislature will become “a serious political institution that can guarantee stability and continuity,” as this may be the last parliamentary election under Nazarbayev’s control, Dosym Satpayev, director of the Kazakhstan Risks Assessment Group, said by phone.

“Time is playing against the current political system,” Satpayev said, adding that building a succession mechanism, including a strong parliament, must have begun eight to 10 years ago.

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