Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 193

Kazakhstan’s Central Electoral Commission announced on October 17 the returns of the first round of the parliamentary elections (held on October 10). Leftist parties, capitalizing on the country’s economic predicament–which largely stems from external factors–seemed well placed for a strong performance in these elections.

For the first time in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, political parties were entitled to compete for some seats in the Milli Majlis on the basis of countrywide party slates (the proportional system). In the previous elections, all candidates ran as individuals in single-mandate electoral districts (the majoritarian system). This time, ten of the chamber’s seventy-seven seats were allocated to party lists and political parties officially nominated candidates to compete in the single-mandate districts on the basis of the party programs. These elections were consequently seen in Kazakhstan and internationally as a significant step toward–and to some extent, an experiment in–the establishment of a multiparty system. Considering the novel elements, the turnout of 62.5 percent of eligible voters was relatively low–a factor which tends to favor leftist parties and candidates.

Nine parties entered slates of up to ten candidates each in the contest for the party seats. Based on the proportional distribution of the votes cast, the Otan [Fatherland] Party and the Civic Party won four and two seats, respectively; the Communist Party and the Agrarian Party won two seats each. The leftist Azamat [Citizen] and other parties failed to overcome the 7 percent barrier.

Otan is the main pro-presidential party, created shortly after President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s reelection in early 1999 (see the Monitor, January 15, March 4). The Civic and the Agrarian Parties are essentially lobbies for the industrial and the agricultural sectors, respectively. The former is openly pro-presidential, based mainly in the north of the country, controlled and financed by industrial managers, and able to draw on–or deliver–a large part of the ethnic Russian vote.

In the single-mandate districts, twenty races were settled in the first round of balloting. The Civic Party and Otan won seven and four, respectively, of those seats. Three seats went to nonleftist trade union nominees and six to non-party candidates. A runoff is to be held on October 24 in the forty-seven single-mandate districts in which no candidate garnered an absolute majority in the first round. Among the ninety-four candidates in the runoff races, only one is a communist, and one an Azamat representative.

The People’s Republican Party of former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin has only three candidates in the runoff races in single-mandate districts. The PRP withdrew its slate from the contest among parties after the courts disqualified Kazhegeldin from that slate on a legal technicality, unrelated to the corruption investigation against him. Kazhegeldin, who lives in the West, has in any case declined to return to Kazakhstan and face questioning in that investigation (see the Monitor, April 22, July 8, September 16; Fortnight in Review, September 24). Among Kazhegeldin’s and the PRP’s allies, only the communists managed to enter the new Milli Majlis (see above). Earlier this year, the PRP had formed an alliance with the Communist Party, the left-wing Orleu [Progress] Party, the Officers’ Union–an organization of Soviet Army veterans–and the Union of Russian, Slavic and Cossack Associations. None of these groups made any noticeable impact on the elections and they remain marginal among the Russian population, where they had hoped to find substantial support.

Approximately 200 international observers, including more than 150 from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, monitored the balloting. In a preliminary assessment, the OSCE described these elections as an improvement on the January 1999 presidential election, the balloting as generally free of violations, and the work of the Central and local electoral commissions as generally adequate. But the OSCE’s mission criticized the executive authorities for having interfered with the electioneering of opposition parties during the campaign and for placing the opposition at a disadvantage in terms of media access.

Unequal access to the media was in fact an important factor in preventing Red successes in these elections. Before the election, Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin had predicted a high score for his party and other leftist forces–if they were granted unrestricted access to television and radio. On the eve of the balloting, Milli Majlis Chairman Marat Ospanov expressed concern over the fact that many candidates were “promising social benefits to the low-income strata of the population, which might elect the left-wing forces to parliament…. If the forces of yesterday make a comeback, they will doom the reforms.” These elections have, however, successfully averted that prospect (Habar, AP, Reuters, Xinhua, Itar-Tass, October 8-9, 11-12, 17-18).