The polls have closed in Kazakhstan’s election in a vote designed to boost the country’s democratic credentials by giving a non-ruling party a toehold in parliament for the first time.
The image of the former Soviet republic and its veteran President Nursultan Nazarbayev was badly tarnished last month when a long-running protest in a remote oil town was brutally suppressed.
There is no doubt that his governing party will again win by a landslide.
But this time the party coming second will be guaranteed seats – although of several contesting the election, only the Social Democrats are described as real opposition.
The party’s general secretary Amirzhan Kosanov said:
“Parliament’s image needs to be raised, the word MP or ‘deputy’ should become respectable, so that it’s not thought to mean ‘lobbyist’ for a particular oligarch group. It should become part of the public consciousness that all citizens can solve their problems via their deputy.”
No previous Kazakh election has been recognised as democratic by the OSCE, whose observers are again on the ground. The opposition has complained that its monitors have been denied access to numerous polling stations.
Nazarbayev’s strongest critics have been barred from standing.
The president though remains extremely popular in the oil-rich country, despite growing complaints that only an elite few benefit from Kazakhstan’s relative wealth.