A Eurasianet partner post from <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/kazakhstan_voting_parliamentary_elections_…;
Voting in Kazakhstan's parliamentary elections continues amid allegations of fraud in a contest that officials say addresses demands for democratic change.
The election is aimed at putting a second party in parliament in an effort to ease discontent after deadly riots last month in the western oil-producing region of the energy-rich country.
It is expected that the Nur Otan party of President Nursultan Nazarbaev will win the vote by a landslide. For the first time, the second-placed party will also automatically be guaranteed a presence in the 107-seat chamber, whether or not it clears the 7 percent entry threshold.
However, many of Nazarbayev's opponents have been barred from standing, and the party that is expected to place second is a pro-business group led by a former ruling party member.
Casting his ballot in the capital, Astana, the 71-year-old president called the vote "a big test."
"I'm sure that, as always, Kazakh people will vote for the stability of our country, for the calm of our country, and therefore for the development and well-being of all Kazakhs," Nazarbaev said. "We've done everything necessary to make open, fair elections. This is a big test for us."
Voting is reported as calm in the western city of Zhanaozen, the center of the recent riots. One Zhanaozen resident told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the city was "full" of armed riot police and that men armed with clubs were guarding the local polling stations.
But Margarita Assenova, a U.S.-based election monitor, told RFE/RL the police presence in Zhanaozen "was not particularly strong."
Flicker Of Hope
Nazarbaev dissolved the last Mazhilis after lawmakers from Nur Otan petitioned for a multiparty legislature in early November.
Nur Otan occupied all 107 seats in the dissolved lower house of parliament. So Nazarbaev's pledge that at least two political groups would enter the next Mazhilis offered a flicker of hope to Western and domestic critics who've pressed for democratic reforms.
But in a country with no record of free and fair elections, strict limits on dissenters' access to media, and just two months to prepare for the voting, genuine presidential critics stand little real chance of winning seats in the new legislature.
The Social Democratic party (OSDP) is the only one of the seven parties in the running (Nur Otan, Ak Zhol, Auyl, Adilet, OSDP, Patriots' Party, and Communist-National Party) that is not regarded as a loyal presidential supporter.
Nur Otan and the strongly pro-presidential Ak Zhol are expected to fare well, and opposition leaders accuse authorities of systematically excluding opponents from the process.
WATCH: A correspondent for RFE/RL's Kazakh Service filmed suspected ballot-stuffing at election booth No. 374 near Almaty. (Video in Kazakh)
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service has reported multiple claims of fraud during the January 15 voting.
Correspondent Asylkhan Mamashuly filmed a scene of suspected ballot-stuffing by a Kazakh election official at polling station No. 374 in the village of Zhana Turmys near Almaty. When asked by RFE/RL what she was doing, she said she was acting on behalf of a voter. A local resident then said he was casting ballots for his entire family, which he claimed included nine sons.
Other claims of fraud have also been reported.
Members of the opposition Azat party allege they encountered a voter who said she had been promised 2,000 tenge ($13) in exchange for voting for Nur Otan.
The Republican Network of Independent Monitors, a Kazakh-based group, has reported a number of serious infractions in Astana, ranging from the blocking of observers from some polling stations to poorly sealed ballot boxes.
The national elections will take place in two stages. On January 15, 98 seats will be decided from party lists through the general vote. The nine remaining seats will be appointed the following day by the People's Assembly, a consultative body loyal to Nazarbaev.
The more than 9 million eligible voters will also elect members of local councils, known as maslikhats, on January 15.
The nation of some 16.6 million has allocated more than $55 million to conduct the elections.
Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled to take place in summer 2012.
written by Farangis Najibullah, with reporting from RFE/RL's Kazakh Service
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