Kazakhstan: Zhanaozen Violence Fails to Move Almaty Voters
Kazakhstan is voting in parliamentary elections in which the ruling Nur Otan party, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is set to win a landslide, just one month after security forces opened fire on protestors in western Kazakhstan, killing at least 17.
Residents of Zhanaozen, the epicenter of the December 16 violence, were casting their ballots under a state of emergency, with restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and access for journalists. Independent international election observers were granted access to the town.
As voters trickled into less-than-bustling polling stations 1,500 kilometers away in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, the Zhanaozen violence – sparked by an industrial dispute in the oil sector – appeared to have had minimal impact. Citing the need for stability, voters overwhelmingly said they would elect Nur Otan.
“I want only peace and quiet,” said pensioner Zukhra Akhatova after casting her vote for the ruling party. Had events in Zhanaozen influenced her choice? No, she said, someone had “stirred up” the strikers and provoked the violence.
“I think the [oil] company management treated them wrongly, but [the management] aren’t people from the [ruling] party,” said retail trader and Nur Otan voter Alibek.
This prevalent mood suggests the administration’s tactic of blaming the unrest on mysterious third forces and oil executives is paying off.
As Nur Otan heads for a landslide, the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and seen as close to the administration, is tipped to come a distant second.
Nur Otan held all elected seats in the last parliament, but due to constitutional amendments the second-place party is now exempt from any threshold, ensuring that at least two parties will hold seats in the next parliament. The Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, again loyal to Astana, also has an outside chance of winning seats.
Opposition supporter Nurlan Ibragimov, an engineer, dismissed these two and the smaller parties on the ballot paper (Adilet, the Party of Patriots, and Auyl) as “Nur Otan’s clowns” and said he had voted for the OSDP. OSDP was the only opposition party allowed to stand in the election, though the Central Election Commission disqualified two of its best-known faces, Bolat Abilov and Guljan Yergaliyeva, days before the vote. Most opposition forces have been shut out of the vote altogether.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed fair by international observers, though Nazarbayev has pledged one this time.