Kazakhstan likes to portray itself as open to dialogue with the West – but is it open to criticism?
After observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) slammed Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary vote as fraudulent, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced that in future certain “experts” voicing critical views will be banned from attending Kazakhstan’s elections.
“We are no longer going to invite to Kazakhstan experts hired by someone who criticize our elections,” Nazarbayev said on January 18.
He did not name the OSCE or any other organization or individual, but his remarks came two days after the OSCE-led observation mission issued a stinging critique of Kazakhstan’s poll, which it said “did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections.”
Nazarbayev, on the other hand, said the vote was “unprecedented in terms of transparency, openness and honesty.”
He pointed out that most international observers had found the vote to be free and fair, which is true – cooperative regional bodies such as the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States (a club of former Soviet countries) gave the election a ringing endorsement, right on cue.
However, the global benchmark for democratic electoral standards is usually considered the OSCE’s. Surely Nazarbayev, whose country chaired the OSCE with much fanfare in 2010, cannot have had this august organization in mind? Pending clarification, there can be only speculation.
Washington has endorsed the OSCE’s dim view of Kazakhstan’s election, albeit in the most diplomatic of terms: “We … acknowledge [the OSCE’s] preliminary assessment that a variety of issues caused this election to fall short of the international standards to which Kazakhstan has committed itself,” a State Department spokesman said.
Of course, Astana can always rely on more starry-eyed observers to deliver upbeat assessments of its electoral record, and highly placed foreign well-wishers to take a benign view of its democratic proclivities. Though hired, they don’t fall into the “critics” category.