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Presidential Campaigning Ends in Kazakhstan

The presidential election campaign is nearing an end in Kazakhstan, where voters go to the polls Sunday to choose one of five candidates to be the country's next president. The race mainly pits front-runner and incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev against the candidate of Kazakhstan's united democratic opposition, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai.

Kazakhstan's pre-election campaign drew to a close with a whimper. There were no final campaign rallies with cheering supporters, or last minute media campaigns.

In Almaty, a city of just over one million people, there was almost no campaign literature or billboards, save for those of incumbent president Nazarbayev. It has been much the same story on Kazakh television, with state-controlled media pushing the president's agenda.

The main opposition challenger, former ruling party member Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, was afforded only one 15-minute shot on national television.

Still, in an interview with VOA, Mr. Tuyakbai said his party's message to voters is clear. Mr. Tuyakbai says a vote for the opposition, quote, is a vote for democracy over what he calls continued authoritarian rule.

Mr. Tuyakbai says the united opposition's goal is to build a true democratic system in Kazakhstan, with appropriate checks and balances on executive power. At present, he says all power lies in the hands of one man, incumbent president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the oil-rich nation since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The opposition challenger says government talk of democracy has so far been nothing more than what Mr. Tuyakbai calls, a democratic facade.

While getting low marks from the West on democratic reform, President Nazarbayev has been widely credited with fostering strong economic growth, making Kazakhstan the richest of the five Central Asian republics.

Earlier this week, addressing supporters in the capital, Astana, President Nazarbayev pledged to continue fueling the nation's rapid economic growth. He said he envisions a Kazakhstan where every family will have a house, a car, and a job. But he says in order for that to happen, maintaining stability is key.

The presidents ruling party, Otan accuses the opposition of being more interested in seizing power through revolution than in helping the people. And, in an apparent sign of nervousness, the government has banned all protests immediately after Sunday's polls.

Mr. Tuyakbai says the opposition is not interested in starting a revolution, but rather in raising peoples political consciousness in Kazakhstan.