Kazakh leadership looks beyond staid presidential elections to reform agenda
  • Mon, 04/04/2011 - 12:00

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The Canadian Press
02 Apr 2011
By Peter Leonard

 ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Top government officials in Kazakhstan say a strong victory for the incumbent in Sunday’s presidential elections will reinforce their ambitious reform agenda, despite international criticism of the vote.

Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to claim some 90 per cent of the vote in an election that has already been described by international observers as lacking fairness. Authorities insist the election will be the cleanest in the Central Asian nation’s history.

The mainly Muslim ex-Soviet country is growing increasingly prosperous on a tide of oil and mineral resource-generated revenues, but critics say democracy has been stifled and wealth is poorly distributed.

Speaking to The Associated Press late Friday, Prime Minister Karim Masimov said that widescale reforms would be needed to ensure sustainable growth and increase average earning standards across Kazakhstan.

“That is why the continuation of institutional reforms such as (changes to) the judiciary system, property rights and competitiveness among the middle class are needed,” he said, speaking in English.

Only one party, Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan, is currently represented in parliament, which has served as an embarrassing reminder of Kazakhstan’s threadbare political landscape.

Changes to the election law approved in 2009 should ensure at least two parties earn seats in the legislature in a vote due next year.

“A so-called ‘soft’ or ‘flexible’ opposition could be installed as the second party in parliament, thereby allowing the authorities to tout a multiparty parliament in the country and still essentially maintain total Nur Otan dominance,” said Anthony Bowyer, a Kazakhstan expert at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

Masimov downplayed those concerns.

“Opposition parties are needed and political pluralism is needed. It helps us, the government, because when everything is pro-government, it ends up very badly,” he said.

Nurlan Yermekbayev, a senior adviser to Nazarbayev, said measures will be taken to increase the role of parliament in running the country. That would be a bold departure in a region where governments led by unchallenged strongmen predominate.

“Another area is the media, where we will be providing more freedom,” Yermekbayev said in an interview at Nazarbayev’s lofty presidential palace.

Media freedoms have been an acute area of concern in the Central Asian nation. The sudden disappearance of the publisher of the country’s main independent newspaper this week has prompted alarm among media rights groups.

“We are gravely concerned about the health and well-being of Daniyar Moldashev and call on Kazakh authorities to positively determine his whereabouts and ensure his safety,” Committee to Protect Journalists representative Nina Ognianova said.