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.
OSDP co-leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay (right) and deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov (center) leaving a rally in Almaty where they called on Astana to annul the results of the January 15 parliamentary election.
Kazakhstan’s main opposition party has held a small rally in Almaty, calling for the results of the January 15 parliamentary election to be annulled and a new election held this August. While the opposition was standing out in the cold, authorities had blocked another critical website run by one disqualified opposition candidate.
The OSDP party was shut out of parliament after failing to clear the 7-percent electoral threshold to win seats. The ruling Nur Otan party won a landslide, but opposition leaders – backed by international observers – say the vote was rigged.
Election day “was a black day in the calendar of the whole history of Kazakhstan,” OSDP deputy leader Amirzhan Kosanov told a crowd of less than a hundred supporters gathered on Almaty’s Republic Square in a blizzard. “On that day democracy was killed, just as in Zhanaozen our peaceful citizens were killed with machine guns.”
Kosanov was referring to mid-December unrest in western Kazakhstan, when at least 17 protestors were shot dead.
The OSDP, the only genuine opposition party in an election which saw most dissident voices excluded, said the results should be annulled – a call Astana is certain not to heed.
As questions linger over the role of the security forces in and around Kazakhstan’s riot-torn western town of Zhanaozen, where 17 protestors were shot dead last month, Kazakh police who took part in quashing the protest are being showered with gifts, TV Channel 31 reports.
Officers who were dispatched 1700 kilometers from Karaganda to Zhanaozen, where an industrial dispute in the oil sector turned violent on December 16, have been given certificates of merit, gifts and financial bonuses as rewards for their role in restoring order. The report said that over 600 officers would receive bonuses for their efforts, and 27 were given watches.
The rewarded officers were not in Zhanaozen when security forces opened fire on protestors, but questions also remain over police behavior in the aftermath of the shootings.
Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party has won its expected landslide in a January 15 parliamentary election – a month after at least 17 protestors were shot dead by security forces – and will be joined in parliament by two other parties, preliminary results show.
Balloons in the state colors, which also happen to be the ruling Nur Otan party's colors, grace a polling station in Almaty.
Kazakhstan is voting in parliamentary elections in which the ruling Nur Otan party, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is set to win a landslide, just one month after security forces opened fire on protestors in western Kazakhstan, killing at least 17.
Residents of Zhanaozen, the epicenter of the December 16 violence, were casting their ballots under a state of emergency, with restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and access for journalists. Independent international election observers were granted access to the town.
As voters trickled into less-than-bustling polling stations 1,500 kilometers away in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, the Zhanaozen violence – sparked by an industrial dispute in the oil sector – appeared to have had minimal impact. Citing the need for stability, voters overwhelmingly said they would elect Nur Otan.
“I want only peace and quiet,” said pensioner Zukhra Akhatova after casting her vote for the ruling party. Had events in Zhanaozen influenced her choice? No, she said, someone had “stirred up” the strikers and provoked the violence.
“I think the [oil] company management treated them wrongly, but [the management] aren’t people from the [ruling] party,” said retail trader and Nur Otan voter Alibek.
This prevalent mood suggests the administration’s tactic of blaming the unrest on mysterious third forces and oil executives is paying off.
As Nur Otan heads for a landslide, the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and seen as close to the administration, is tipped to come a distant second.
Elections in Kazakhstan often bring out pontificating commentators displaying a glaring lack of knowledge of the situation on the ground and a startling propensity for glossing over Kazakhstan’s sometimes-blatant abuses of political freedoms and human rights.
Ahead of January 15’s parliamentary vote along comes Peter Fraser, aka Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, doubtless an expert on democracy since he sits in the Mother of Parliaments: He holds a seat in Britain’s House of Lords (though he was not, of course, democratically elected to this unaccountable chamber).
In a January 12 Moscow Times commentary headlined “How Kazakhstan Can Continue Its Success Story,” Lord Fraser paints a flattering portrait of oil-rich Kazakhstan as it trundles slowly but (in the author’s eyes) surely along the path to true democracy.
Perhaps he should have solicited opinions on this “success story” from residents of
Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were gunned down by security forces on December 16. Unconfirmed eyewitness reports suggest the death toll may be higher and offer detailed accounts of torture of detainees in custody.
The riot-hit town of Zhanaozen will be casting ballots in Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary election after all: A postponement of the vote there, announced on January 6, has now been overturned by the president. But several big names have been struck from the poll.
Nursultan Nazarbayev vetoed the postponement on January 10 after “he took account of the disquiet and concern of the inhabitants of Zhanaozen at the fact that by this Constitutional Council decision their electoral rights … were restricted,” his office said.
Zhanaozen will vote under a state of emergency ordered after at least 16 protestors were shot dead by security forces on December 16.
But as Nazarbayev moved to increase the legitimacy of the election by allowing Zhanaozen to participate, two of Kazakhstan’s best-known opposition leaders – Bolat Abilov, co-leader of the OSDP Azat party, and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, a leading party member and journalist – were thrown out of the election, accused of irregularities in financial declarations.
OSDP Azat was not the only party affected: Vladimir Bobrov of the ruling Nur Otan party was also struck off, as were three candidates from smaller parties. However, OSDP Azat is the only genuine opposition party allowed to stand, and the expulsion of two of its leading lights deals a severe blow to its hopes.
When Kazakhstan goes to the polls to elect a new parliament on January 15, voters in the restless western oil town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead when police opened fire on protestors last month, will not be allowed to cast their ballots.
Astana has postponed the election in Zhanaozen, promising that its 50,000 voters can head to the polls at an unspecified later date.
The Central Electoral Commission announced the move on January 6 after consultations with the Constitutional Council, on the grounds that the vote cannot be held in the town while a state of emergency is in place. On January 4, President Nursultan Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency until the end of the month.
The exclusion of Zhanaozen’s voters from the election, even if temporary, raises the question of how legitimate the election will be. Central Electoral Commission head Kuandyk Turgankulov said casually that Zhanaozen’s exclusion would have only “minimal” impact on the nationwide election results.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by international observers, and Nazarbayev and his ruling Nur Otan party regularly win with eye-popping landslides. Nazarbayev won reelection last April with 95.5 percent of the vote; Nur Otan won the last parliamentary election in 2007 with 88 percent, forming a single-party parliament after other parties failed to clear the 7 percent voter threshold.
Prosecutors in Kazakhstan have opened an inquiry into the shooting of protestors by police in the western oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16.
Investigators opened the case into the fatal shootings on December 27, the prosecutor’s office announced two days later. Security forces are being investigated for “exceeding authority or official powers with the use of weapons and special tools.”
The move comes amid mounting pressure on Astana to investigate the circumstances of how police came to fire on protestors involved in an industrial dispute in Zhanaozen. The government is already pursuing an inquiry into the overall circumstances of how the protest turned violent, killing 16 people according to the latest death toll, and has invited UN participation. However, this is the first time that officials have specifically instigated a probe into the police for the deaths.
Video posted on YouTube, apparently filmed by a local resident, shows police opening fire directly at retreating demonstrators and beating one protestor lying prone on the ground with truncheons. The police claim to have exonerating video but have yet to produce it.