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OSCE: Kazakh Election Flawed

The international election observation mission to Kazakhstan has characterized Sunday's presidential vote as flawed, despite some improvements in election administration. The Central Election Commission earlier announced that incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been re-elected by an overwhelming 91 percent of the vote.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released its initial assessment of Kazakhstan's elections in a joint press conference with other European monitoring organizations in Astana.

The other observers include the ODIHR, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament.

The president of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, Bruce George, told reporters it gave him no joy to report that despite some improvements during the pre-election campaign, Kazakhstan's presidential elections did not meet a number of OSCE and Western standards for democratic elections.

Namely, Mr. George says the vote was marred by three significant shortcomings.

"There was an overall media bias in favor of the incumbent and legal restrictions on freedom of expression and dissemination of information, which diminished the possibility for electors to make a fully informed choice," said Mr. George. "There were restrictions on the opposition candidates ability to campaign freely and there was harassment, some intimidation, and detention of campaign staff and supporters of opposition candidates."

Mr. George says there also was evidence of faculty leaders exerting pressure on students and doctors, among others, to vote in favor of one of the candidates.

Previous elections in Kazakhstan have been marred by vote fraud and intimidation and this election, which President Nazarbayev had promised would be free and fair, was being watched closely for signs of Kazakhstan's commitment to democracy. But on that score, the observers say Kazakhstan also fell short, according to the head of the delegation from the European Parliament, Struan Stevenson.

"We are of the view that further improvements are imperative, if Kazakhstan's embryonic democracy is to grow and mature," said Mr. Stevenson.

Both Mr. Stevenson and the OSCE's Mr. George said their organizations stand ready to assist Kazakhstan's parliament in carrying out electoral reforms, if requested, in order for the country's next elections to be more democratic.

But Mr. George ruled out the possibility of invalidating Sunday's election, saying it is not the job of international observers to be a, quote, quiz master that approves or disapproves of the results.

The chairman of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission later disagreed with some of the contents of the OSCE report, as did observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, who declared the vote as generally free and fair.

Addressing supporters earlier in Astana, President Nazarbayev said his victory belongs to the people of Kazakhstan. He also attempted to reach out to the political opposition, saying there was room for them in the political process.

But the main candidate of Kazakhstan's united political opposition, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, has said his party will challenge the results through the courts. According to the CEC, Mr. Tuyakbai came in second with just seven percent of the vote.

Fourth place went to the Communist party candidate, who has said the results demonstrate what happens when the public votes on command.