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ASTANA, January 15 (Itar-Tass) — Early parliamentary elections have started in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for the Kazakh Central Elections Commission told Itar-Tass early on Sunday.
A total of 9,764 polling stations opened in the country at 07:00 a.m. local time (05:00 Moscow time). The voting will be held till 20:00 local time (18:00 Moscow time). The voting will be extended till 21:00 local time (19:00 Moscow time) in Kazakhstan’s four western provinces. There are 9,328,805 eligible voters in Kazakhstan. A total of 56 polling stations will be opened outside the country. Thus, four polling station are in Russia – in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Omsk, and Astrakhan.
Ballot papers in the Russian and Kazakh languages include seven political parties, namely Nur Otan (Light of Homeland) led by Nazarbayev; the Democratic Party Ak Zhol (Bright Road); the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan; the Party of Kazakh Patriots; Adilet (Justice); Auyl (Countryside); and the National Social-Democratic Party (its list includes members of the party itself and members of another opposition party Azat - Freedom), which will vie for 98 seats in the lower parliament house. The total number of candidates from all the seven parties is 335. Another nine lawmakers, according to Kazakhstan’s laws, will be elected on January 16 at an extraordinary session of the Assemble of the Kazakh People to ensure that nationalities and ethnic groups living in the republic are also represented in the parliament. Under the amended election laws, at least two parties are to be represented in the parliament.
A press centre has been opened at the Kazakh Central Election Commission to inform about the progress of the balloting.
The Kazakh Central Election Commission has promised to announce preliminary voting results after noon on January 16. Official results will be announced on January 22 at the latest and will be published before January 25. First preliminary results however are expected overnight to January 16 based on exit polls. Under Kazakhstan’s law, it is prohibited to announce exit polls results during the voting day.
A total of 819 international observers will monitor the elections, plus 155 members of the foreign media who have the same rights as observers under the law.
The early parliamentary elections were appointed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on November 16 after the former lower house had terminated its authority before its term expired. Early elections followed Nazarbayev’s statements on the need of political modernization of the country.
The current elections, the fifth ones in the 20-year history of independent Kazakhstan, are held under amended elections laws to have more than one party be represented in the lower parliament house. Even in case a party that finishes second does not manage to overcome the seven-percent barrier, it will be granted some seats in the house.
According to the republic’s president, these elections “are of great importance for the country, for securing democratic values.” In his words, “the state has created all the conditions for open, fair, transparent and competitive elections.”
Nazarbayev pledged that Kazakhstan will keep to its course towards political modernization of society.” He said the elections will mark “a new political stage of the country’s development.” Thus, a new government will be formed after the elections that will implement plans of economic and social modernization.
The country’s Central Election Commission has promised to ensure fair and transparent voting. According to chairman of the Kazakh Central Election Commission Kuandyk Turgankulov, the current election campaign “closes a big electoral cycle that included elections of the head of state and the upper parliament house.” Thus, in his words, after January 15, Kazakhstan will have all electable branches of power.
Security measures have been enhanced in Kazakhstan ahead of the polls. A special situation has formed in the city of Zhanaozen in the west of the country, where a total of 16 persons were killed and tens were injured in mass riots of sacked employers of oil companies on December 16, 2011, the day when the country marked its 20th independence anniversary. Despite the state of emergency to be in place till the end of January, parliamentary elections will be held in that city as well. International observers have been sent to Zhanaozen to monitor the voting. “They will have to undergo no specific procedures to get access. An agreement has been reached with the commandant,” said the chairman of the Kazakh Central Election Commission.
Along with the lower house of the national parliament, Kazakhstan will elect local legistaures.