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Kazakh election likely to confirm leader Nazarbayev's broad support after riots

The ruling Nur Otan party, which polls suggest will win 80 per cent of the vote, has pledged to change Kazakhstan's political system following unrest.

Kazakh women in tradition dress vote at a polling centre in the village of Karasu, in north-west Kazakhstan yesterday.
Kazakh women in tradition dress vote at a polling centre in the village of Karasu, in north-west Kazakhstan yesterday.

ALMATY // Voters in Kazakhstan, the second-biggest energy producer among the former Soviet nations, went to the polls in early parliamentary elections yesterday, a month after the nation endured its worst violence in 20 years.

Voting began at 7am local time at 9,764 polling stations, according to Aigerim Tazhiyeva, a spokeswoman for the country's central electoral committee. Preliminary results may be announced today, with the official tally to be published within a week, she said on January 13.

Riots broke out last month in the western part of the central Asian country, killing 16 people after months of strikes by workers at the state-run energy company. The ruling Nur Otan party, which polls suggest will win 80 per cent of the vote, has pledged to change the political system following the unrest.

"We expect the weekend's usually uneventful Kazakh parliamentary elections to take place in a more fraught political environment," Ivan Tchakarov, an economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow, said in a January 13 note. "Although we believe the elections will cement the leading role of the presidential Nur Otan Party, the lower house of parliament will now see at least one more party represented."

Central Asia's largest economy probably grew by 6.5 per cent in 2011 and may expand 5.6 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Fitch Ratings raised Kazakhstan's sovereign credit rating one step to BBB on November 21, level with Russia, as energy exports boosted foreign-currency assets.

"I'm sure Kazakh citizens will support stability, development and efforts to improve people's lives," President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in a January 13 speech published on his website. Other parties' campaigns featured "empty rhetoric, name-calling and absolutely no comprehension of real life".

Mr Nazarbayev, who has ruled the nation since 1989 in the Soviet era, won a new five-year term last April with 95.5 per cent backing. He was named "leader of the nation" in 2010, giving him power to dictate policy even after retiring.

Support for Nur Otan comes to 80.1 per cent, according to a January 4 to 6 survey of 1,500 respondents conducted by the Institute of Democracy research association. The Akzhol party is next with 7.3 per cent backing, just above the legislature's 7 per cent entry barrier, the poll showed. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

"The opposition is only rushing for power, and it's unknown what it will do when it will get it," Denis Neverov, a 27-year-old employee at a state-owned company, said yesterday in the capital city of Astana.

Bulat Abilov, head of the National Social Democratic Party, and Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, another candidate from the only opposition party, were banned from the ballot after filing false reports on their income and property, the electoral commission said this month on its website.

"Everything was done to make open and honest elections," Mr Nazarbayev said in Astana today, according to his website. "This is a big exam for us."

Erlan Karin, Nur Otan's party secretary, on January 9 said: "We feel that serious political changes are required" to stave off "large-scale" unrest following the riots. The government's composition will change after the parliamentary elections and other steps will be taken to modernise the political system, he said.

The discord, instigated by workers of KazMunaiGas Exploration Production in the town of Zhanaozen, was "unprecedented in a country that has enjoyed one of the most stable political environments in the region," Standard & Poor's said on December 22, leaving its BBB+ credit rating unchanged.