View Full Version : Kazakh President Takes Steps to Ensure an Easy Re-election

News Update
25-06-05, 17:47
June 26, 2005

Kazakh President Takes Steps to Ensure an Easy Re-election


International Herald Tribune

ALMATY, Kazakhstan - Last year, the International Republican Institute commissioned a poll here that found that despite gripes about corruption, the citizens of this booming former Soviet republic were optimistic about the future and supported President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

By inviting Western oil companies to invest billions in huge but hard-to-reach oil deposits that the Soviets had ignored, Mr. Nazarbayev, 65, a former steel engineer who has ruled for 15 years, has created one of the most vibrant economies in the former Soviet Union. He is expected to handily win re-election to yet another term in December.

Still, he appears to be taking no chances. The Parliament, which he controls, has been churning out repressive laws that among other steps will force out many international nongovernmental organizations and sharply curtail the rights of protesters and religious groups.

The reasons may largely be found across Kazakhstan's borders - in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia, where entrenched leaders who presided over corrupt governments were ousted after rigging elections. In all cases, foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations were instrumental, though to varying degrees, in countering the effects of a muzzled press.

Time and again, Mr. Nazarbayev, whose popularity has never been low, has demonstrated that where power is concerned, he does what it takes to achieve eyebrow-raising results. In his first re-election campaign, for example, he officially received 98.7 percent of the vote. Last fall, elections widely condemned as rigged yielded the opposition one Parliament seat out of 77.

Recently, amendments to the election law banned demonstrations between elections and the announcement of results - precisely the kind of protests that led to the collapse of governments in Georgia, Ukraine and neighboring Kyrgyzstan after votes denounced as fraudulent.

The amendments enhance the opportunity for fraud and "and constitute a step backward for electoral reform in Kazakhstan," said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union's main elections-monitoring group, in a detailed analysis of the law.

Mr. Nazarbayev has also pushed laws that would bring religious and political groups under tighter control. One measure forces religious groups to register with the government, and imposes restrictions on establishing places of worship. The laws also give broader powers to classify a group as "extremist" and take action against it.

In addition, amendments that are expected to become law would impose such burdensome requirements on nongovernmental organizations - many of which promote seemingly benign causes like helping the disabled - as to make it impossible for them to continue functioning, the heads of several groups said.

"It's completely unnecessary because there is no crisis here," said Valentina Sivryukova, president of the Confederation of NonGovernmental Organizations and a supporter of Mr. Nazarbayev.

Valery Kotovich, a member of Parliament who sponsored the amendments, denied they would establish conditions different from those in the West. "We just want to make sure these organizations work under strict control because some are covers for extremist groups," he said. "If I went to your country, do you think I could operate an organization without strict controls?"

On June 15, the day the amendments were approved in the lower house of Parliament, George Soros, the American financier and philanthropist, came to Almaty for a conference to urge Mr. Nazarbayev to reverse course. "Uzbekistan's massacre in Andijan provides a terrifying demonstration of where a repressive course may lead," he said, referring to the melee on May 13, when Uzbek troops fired indiscriminately on a protest there, reportedly killing several hundred people.

Yevgeni Zhovtis, the leader of the Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights, said the government wrongly believed that organizations supported by the West were "some kind of fifth column they need to control." But, he said, "by oppressing the moderates who work on building a civil society, the president is simply encouraging the extremists he's most afraid of."

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