There is something of the Twilight Zone about how different sets of international observers in Kazakhstan's recent presidential election seem to have monitored different votes.Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers reported numerous violations. Those included multiple identical signatures on voter lists, ballot-box stuffing, improper sealing of ballot boxes, group voting, multiple voting and proxy voting. And that doesn't even address the pitiful election campaign and widespread reports that government officials intimidated civil servants and university students into casting ballots.On the other side of the fence were the independent international monitors, including Daniel Witt, whose breathless admiration for Kazakh democracy has been documented here before. Now, he's come back to serve up an extra helping of craven sycophancy, again in The Huffington Post. After lavishing Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev with so much praise that even the big man himself would probably be embarrassed, Witt airily declares that although his team detected rare cases of "organizational errors," vote administrators were "open and forthcoming" and the "process moved cleanly and efficiently."Then mystifyingly, he states that unlike in previous elections, his team "witnessed no signs of impropriety."Could Witt possibly be referring to the parliamentary elections he observed in 2004, when he noted "vigorous and competitive activities by political parities" and the "most open and competitive vote in the history of independent Kazakhstan?" (He claims in his bio at the foot of the article to have observed elections in Kazakhstan in 2003, although there were no presidential or parliamentary elections that year.)Or maybe he is describing the presidential elections in 2005, which Witt, together with a team of observers that included steadfast Central Asian dictator-apologist Frederick Starr, called "a major step forward in Kazakhstan's democratic and political reform."What about the parliamentary election in 2007, which Witt described in an interview to Russian news agency Regnum (via Lexis Nexis) as being "legitimate, open and free."Those elections famously resulted in a one-party parliament.One might fairly ask what business it is for anyone to cast aspersions on Witt, who heads the International Tax and Investment Center (ITIC).Harper's Ken Silverstein, writing in 2006, appeared not to agree: "Witt emphasized in an email to me that ITIC receives no funding from the Kazakh government. That's correct but he does get cash from a host of companies and organizations with interests in Kazakhstan, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Kazakhstan, ChevronTexaco, China National Petroleum Corporation, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, the Kazakhstan Petroleum Association, Marathon Oil Corporation, and Occidental Petroleum."Witt denied in further exchanges with Silverstein that those links in any way affected his judgment, insisting that his involvement in the observation missions reflected his "personal desire to further promote economic reforms and show the positive correlation with political reforms."Silverstein response was acid: "Right. I'm sure Witt would deem as impartial an election observer team sent to Cuba by a group that was funded by companies with billions invested on the island."Again on this occasion, Witt has not only failed to list his possible business interests with Kazakhstan, but has failed to enlighten his readers as to who might have paid for his trip and board at one of the country's most expensive hotels. Another "organizational error," perhaps?Such "independent" international observers were skewered in a piece on Kazakhstan-focused blog Kazaxia. (For full disclosure we note EurasiaNet.org carried a commentary by "a member of the Independent Observer Mission, accredited to the Central Election Commission.")Upon arriving at a polling station, the fictitious British Lord Venal is pleasantly surprised by the gifts being handed out by election officials: "There were presents on offer for the first people to arrive -- I myself was given a rather fine pair of rose-tinted spectacles."
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.