International monitors slam Kazakh vote

Associated Press
A Kazakh woman leaves a voting booth during the Kazakh presidential election at a polling station in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Sunday, April 3, 2011. Voters in Kazakhstan cast their ballots Sunday in a election that is expected to overwhelmingly renew long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev's grip on power. (AP Photo/Nikita Bassov)
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International monitors sharply criticized Kazakhstan's presidential election Monday, citing numerous cases of ballot box-stuffing and bemoaning a lack of transparency.

Condemnation of Sunday's election, which saw incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev winning an overwhelming 95 percent of the vote, will leave Kazakh authorities' claims of growing democratization in tatters.

Nazarbayev's crushing win was expected, but an astonishingly high 90 percent turnout figure surprised observers.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's election monitoring arm said the Central Asian nation had failed to improve significantly on previous elections, which were deemed not "free and fair."

"This election has showed that the country still needs to make improvements to meet democratic commitments, particularly in the fields of freedom of assembly and media," said head OSCE mission observer Tonino Picula.

The 70-year-old Nazarbayev has led Kazakhstan virtually unchallenged since the 1980s, when it still formed part of the Soviet Union.

The OSCE said in a statement that violations included seemingly identical signatures on voter lists and numerous cases of ballot box-stuffing. The vote count also lacked transparency and correct procedures were often disregarded, the statement said.

Numerous reports have surfaced about authorities' efforts to ensure as high a turnout as possible, in an apparent effort to boost the legitimacy of Nazarbayev's mandate.

"Many local authorities intervened in the election process in order to increase turnout," the OSCE said in its report.

Relentless state propaganda and rising income levels have assured Nazarbayev a genuinely high degree of popularity over the years. Western nations have had to balance their palpable distaste for the country's slow pace of democratization with their desire to benefit from its burgeoning energy boom.

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