Kazakhstan: Foreign Election Observer Swoons for Nazarbayev
Ahead of Kazakhstan’s presidential election on April 3, Astana’s swish PR machine is revving up to secure foreign support for incumbent leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, as EurasiaNet.org reported yesterday. Now, it seems, a foreign Nazarbayev fan is so blinded by admiration that he feels moved to lobby in print on his behalf.On March 21, The Huffington Post carried a eulogy of Kazakhstan’s president talking up his debatable democratic credentials and urging the West to forge stronger relations with Astana.The commentary, by International Tax and Investment Center President Daniel Witt, outlines the build-up to Kazakhstan’s snap vote, called on the back of a shelved bid to hold a referendum to keep Nazarbayev in office until 2020. “By rejecting the referendum, Nazarbayev has shown resolve to keep his country on a democratic track,” states Witt, who no doubt talks with the voice of experience since he claims to have extensive work experience in Kazakhstan. Since 1991, according to his website, Witt has led “over thirty delegations to Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Ukraine and Libya to hold meetings with senior finance, taxation, customs, and Parliamentary officials” -- just the kind of experience that helps one understand how democracy works in authoritarian countries. He fails to mention that Nazarbayev’s “democratic track” includes a special status for himself (Leader of the Nation) with extra powers and privileges, plus an exemption from constitutional term limits. Witt might have pointed out that, had the rubberstamp parliament not kindly exempted Nazarbayev from those limits in 2007, he wouldn’t have been eligible to stand at all in this election, which is expected to usher in his third decade of rule.Witt also mentions proudly how “Kazakhstan demonstrated its commitment to upholding democratic values” during its Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe chairmanship last year, a point with which rights activists (including imprisoned campaigner Yevgeny Zhovtis) would beg to differ.Also missing from the litany of Nazarbayev’s democratic contributions was the fact that under 20 years of his rule, Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by credible international observers. Perhaps the author didn’t notice?It seems he must have. The Huffington Post usefully informs readers that Witt was an international observer in three elections in Kazakhstan (in 2003, 2005 and 2007), and will be observing this presidential vote.Surely Kazakhstan’s Election Commission will have something to say about a supposedly impartial foreign election observer eulogizing one candidate in print ahead of the vote?