Kazakh President Urges Unity as Party Sweeps Parliament Vote

  • Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party won 82 percent, election body says
  • Voters lacked `genuine political choice,' observers say

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said parliamentary elections in which his ruling Nur Otan party retained its overwhelming majority showed his country is united in the face of economic difficulties. International observers said voters lacked real choice.

Nur Otan won 82 percent of the vote in Sunday’s early elections, the Kazakh Central Elections Commission said Monday, citing preliminary results. The Ak Zhol party and the Communist People’s Party both won just more than 7 percent of the votes to clear the hurdle for representation in parliament, while three other parties each received no more than 2 percent, it said. Voter turnout was 77.1 percent.

Kazakhs “showed that we are united, that we will triumph over any difficulties and make Kazakhstan prosperous,” Nazarbayev said in televised comments Monday to supporters, who chanted “Nursultan -- Nur Otan!” when he’d finished speaking. “My command to future generations is to maintain this unity, the unity of our people, and then we will be strong.”

Nazarbayev called the election after he warned of a “real crisis” facing central Asia’s largest oil producer following the slide in crude prices to a 13-year low. The tenge has fallen about 45 percent against the dollar since the central bank switched to a free float in August to defend reserves amid devaluations in Russia and China. The currency’s decline has hurt living standards and sent inflation spiking to 15.2 percent in February, the fastest since 2008.

‘Political Choice’

While the participation of six parties offered some alternatives, “most contestants did not directly challenge the ruling party, thus limiting the genuine political choice for voters,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission said in an e-mailed statement Monday. “The dominant position of the ruling party at all levels of government and administration for many years has effectively blurred the distinction between state and party.”

Observers found “serious procedural errors and other irregularities” including ballot-box stuffing and “a very high number of names added to voter lists on election day, the OSCE said. Kazakhstan “still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments for democratic elections.”

‘Flagrant Violations’

The results are practically a repeat of the 2012 elections, when Nur Otan won 83 of 98 elected seats. Ak Zhol and the Communists were also the only other parties to enter the 107-member parliament, which also has nine appointed delegates.

There was “an abundance of flagrant violations” and the results aren’t legitimate, the National Social Democratic Party, which got 1.2 percent according to the elections commission, said in a statement Monday.

The results are “absolutely legitimate” and “a great achievement of our democracy” Nazarbayev said. He called the election after lawmakers said “social consolidation” was needed to confront the economic crisis.

The tenge strengthened 0.2 percent to 345.5 against the dollar at 4:03 p.m. in Astana, while the yield on the government’s benchmark bond due July 2025 rose one basis point to 4.85 percent. Stock markets in Kazakhstan are closed March 21-24 for public holidays.

Flush with cash when crude was $100 a barrel, Kazakhstan must adjust to an “era of cheap oil” that may last five to seven years, Prime Minister Karim Massimov said in a Jan. 22 interview. Oil accounts for more than 50 percent of the former Soviet republic’s budget revenue, according to Standard and Poor’s, which warned in October that Kazakhstan faces “deteriorating economic conditions.”

Succession Question

The president has demanded extensive reforms, including privatizing all state-run companies, to attract foreign investment and spur Kazakhstan’s recovery.

Nazarbayev, 75, who’s ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, has also pledged to devolve greater power to parliament as part of a political transition promised after he won a fifth term in snap presidential elections last April. The country’s top political issue “remains the question of the succession” to Nazarbayev, Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura International Plc in London, said by e-mail.

The current government “must be allowed” to complete institutional reforms and anti-crisis measures, Nazarbayev said Sunday. “We will take into account the situation in the economy, in the world and in the country” to decide when to “redistribute power between president, parliament and government,” he said, according to the state-owned Kazinform newswire.

Moves toward “a less centralized, more parliamentary system in preparation for his departure have not materialized,” Anna Walker, Associate Director, Europe, at Control Risks in London, said by e-mail. “Intensification of the economic crisis probably made such a move appear too risky and parliament looks set to remain as beholden to the executive as ever after the elections.”

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