Presidential elections are held every five years. In 1995, Nazarbayev introduced a introduced a rigged referendum that extended the presidential term to seven years (and his presidential term to 2000) and allowed to avert an election in 1996. In 2007, the seven-year presidential term was reduced to five years. Parliamentary elections for the Majlis are held every four (the Senate ones are every three years).

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the competitiveness and pluralism of the electoral environment was undermined because the government barred several political parties and candidates from competing. Many OSCE monitors reported instances of ballot stuffing, carousel voting, and proxy voting. The OSCE’s assessment was that the election “did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections.” [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

Polls open before dawn. In the 2004 election 18 percent of the voting was conducted electronically and the rest was conducted on paper. The electronic voting technology was purchased from Belarus. The machines read bar codes stuck to voters’ identity cards.

Voting has been described as “complicated and cumbersome.” In the 2004 parliamentary elections, votes cast ballots for one of 12 parties but were not told who running on each party list. They also vote for one of as many 20 candidates but were not what parties, if any, the candidates represented.

Election Results in Kazakhstan

Presidential elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held on April 26, 2015 (next to be held in 2020). The prime minister and deputy prime ministers are appointed by the president, with Mazhilis approval. Constitutional amendments of May 2007 shortened the presidential term from seven years to five years and established a two-consecutive-term limit. Nazarbayev has official status as the "First President of Kazakhstan" and is allowed unlimited terms. Constitutional amendments of February 2011 moved election date from 2012 to April 2011 but kept five-year term; the subsequent election due to take place in 2016 was moved up to April 2015. Election results: Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev reelected president with 97.7 percent of vote. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Legislative elections: Senate - (indirect) last held in 2014 (next to be held in 2017); Mazhilis - last held on January 15, 2012 (next to be held by November 2016). Election results: Senate - seats by party - Nur Otan 16; Mazhilis - percent of vote by party - Nur-Otan 81 percent, Ak Zhol 7.5 percent, Communist People's Party 7.2 percent, other 4.3 percent; seats by party - Nur-Otan 83, Ak Zhol 8, Communist People's Party 7. =

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ In 2011 President Nazarbayev dismissed the lower house of parliament (Mazhilis) and called for early parliamentary elections to take place in January 2012. The early election resulted in the formation of a multi-party parliament, with the president’s party, Nur Otan, holding the majority of seats. No members of parties considered to oppose the president were elected. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State]

In the 2004 Majlis election, 67 seats were voted on directly by voters. The candidates belonged to parties loyal to President Nazarbayev. The opposition was effectively shut out. The remaining 10 seats were chosen on the basis of percentage of the overall vote and were divided among all parties that won more than 7 percent of the vote.

Electoral System in Kazakhstan

The voting age in Kazakhstan is 18. Elections are overseen by Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission, which is regarded as loyal to Nazarbayev. The dates for elections are set by the Constitutional Council, which is made up of former justice officials, presumably loyal to Nazarbayev. The dates need to be formally confirmed by parliament.

The national election law provides for universal suffrage for citizens aged 18 or older. National elections are overseen by the Central Election Commission, whose members are appointed by the president with the approval of the Majlis. The commission has summarily removed opposition candidates from ballots as recently as the 2002 Senate elections. Opposition candidates also have been bribed and intimidated, and in 2004 a court rejected the qualifications of one electoral bloc. International monitors found major procedural flaws in the Senate elections of 2002 and the Majlis elections of 2004. International observers declared the presidential election of December 2005, which Nazarbayev won easily, to be an improvement over earlier elections but still below democratic standards. The next Majlis elections are scheduled for September 2009. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties. There were credible allegations authorities pressured persons entering government service to join the Nur Otan Party. There are nine political parties registered, including Ak Zhol, Birlik, and Auyl. One party remained registered even though it was defunct, leaving eight functioning parties. These parties generally did not oppose President Nazarbayev’s policies.[Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

In order to register, a political party must hold a founding congress with minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates, including representatives from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 700 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana and Almaty, registration from the CEC, and registration from each oblast-level election commission. Opposition parties have not been able to register. *\

Voter Irregularities and Rigged Elections in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has not held an election deemed free and fair by Western election observers despite claims by Nazarbayev that elections would be “transparent, fair and democratic.” Since his first election in 1991, Nazarbayev has maintained firm control of Kazakhstan’s political and economic policy, removing all potential political rivals, including four prime ministers. A new constitution ratified in 1995 significantly expanded presidential power. After canceling the 1996 presidential election, in 1999 Nazarbayev easily won an election that received international criticism. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Nazarbayev has positioned himself to be leaders for life. In 1994, he rigged an election to pack the parliament with his supporters. The election was deemed unfair by international observers and declared illegal by his own courts. In 1995, he dissolved parliament after its members showed to much independence, introduced a new constitution that gave him dictatorial powers, and introduced a rigged referendum that extended the presidential term to seven years (and his presidential term to 2000). His allowed him to avert an election in 1996.

U.S. and European election observers have charged that elections in Kazakhstan favor government-sponsored candidates and involve cheating. One observer said he observed individuals with handfuls of passports casting votes for themselves, relatives and friends.

The government makes it hard for the opposition to campaign. They are not given access to the media and laws prohibit their ability to stage rallies. Opposition candidates complain that campaign materials have been stolen, newspapers supporting them have been seized and they places they have been allowed to hold rallies has been less than ideal.

Voter Irregularities, See Elections Under History

Presidential Candidate Promises Husbands for Kazakhstan's Single Women

A candidate in Kazakhstan's 2011 presidential election proposed solving Kazakhstan’s problem of too many unmarried women by marrying them off as second wives. Richard Orange wrote in The Telegraph, “Amantay Asilbek is bringing a little colour to the Central Asian republic's depressingly predictable poll with his traditional Kazakh dress, eccentric antics and colourful views. "In Kazakhstan, there are a lot of single women, and it is a national tragedy, because we lose potential mothers," Mr Asilbek said in an interview with Adam, a local magazine. "I think polygamy would solve this problem." [Source: Richard Orange, The Telegraph, February 18, 2011 ~|~]

“Mr Asilbek, 70, went on to say that he, himself, had considered a second wife. "Young girls often come to my home, dreaming of becoming my wives. But none of them could so far pass the 'quality test' of my current wife." The Kazakh air, he claimed, made men remain virile into old age. "From the earliest times in the Kazakh steppe, elder men were able to father children up until their eighties and nineties," he said. "That's because when they are close to nature, men do not lose their strength." ~|~

“Mr Asilbek's views bear a passing resemblance to those of Sacha Baron Cohen's creation Borat Sagdiyev, who frequently talked about his multiple wives in his TV series. In the 2006 hit film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Borat told a meeting of American feminists: "In Kazakhstan it is illegal for more than five woman to be in the same place, except for in brothel or in grave." ~|~

“Mr Asilbek, who campaigns on an Islamic and a nationalist platform, began his political life as a serious campaigner on nuclear and other issues. He first tried to run as president back in 1998, but was rejected. He successfully qualified to contest the election in 2005, but failed to win many votes. To the disappointment of Kazakhstan's apathetic electorate, however, his chances of staying in the campaign until the vote on April 3, are now looking slim. By December 20, he must turn up to take a gruelling test of proficiency in Kazakh language, a hurdle that has already tripped up three out of fifteen prospective candidates, and then collect at least 90,000 signatures. “ ~|~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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