- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — In a ceremony as rich in irony as in glitter, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan for 16 years, was sworn in yesterday for another seven-year term.

It unfolded on live television in the new presidential palace in Astana, which Mr. Nazarbayev, 65, made the country’s capital since 1996. Located at the end of a promenade reminiscent of the Mall in Washington, the year-old palace is modeled on the White House, but is much larger.

Mr. Nazarbayev entered a large hall wearing a business suit and a heavy medallion necklace. The rousing national anthem, which he had rewritten, was played. Then, his hand resting on the constitution — which he largely wrote — he swore, in a low monotone, to “serve the people honestly.”

Among the guests and eight heads of state were Presidents Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Kurmanbek Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan — all advocates of Western-style democracy brought to power by popular uprisings sparked by stolen elections.

They helped inspire the campaign of a former prosecutor, Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, who challenged Mr. Nazarbayev in the Dec. 4 presidential election.

Mr. Tuyakbay’s supporters wore yellow scarves, an echo of the orange scarves that came to symbolize the Ukrainian revolution.

Opinion polls had given Mr. Tuyakbay 20 percent of the vote and Mr. Nazarbayev between 60 percent and 70 percent. But, after reports of widespread ballot-stuffing, the election commission announced that Mr. Nazarbayev had won 91 percent while Mr. Tuyakbay — whose party has since been decertified — got 6 percent.

But in Kazakhstan, unlike the other three countries, not a single street demonstration erupted to protest the vote. Opposition leaders said they did not want to be blamed if the government opened fire on demonstrators.

Mr. Nazarbayev had promised an honest election as part of his drive to become the first post-Soviet country to head the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the region’s premier pro-democracy organization.

The election had presented the West with an unusual conundrum: how to deal with a genuinely popular dictator of an oil-rich and strategic country who, despite muzzling the press, stifling the opposition and brushing aside mounting evidence of nepotism and corruption, would have won easily without cheating.

The answer could be seen in the praise that Columbia University-educated Mr. Saakashvili heaped on his host in an interview on state television, and in the letter from President Bush that the head of the six-member U.S. delegation, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, handed to Mr. Nazarbayev before the ceremony.

“I look forward to working with you to fulfill our nations’ shared commitment to strengthen democracy and increase regional prosperity,” Mr. Bush wrote, according to a text released by the Kazakh Embassy in Washington.

Britain, which has advocated denying Kazakhstan the OSCE chairmanship unless Mr. Nazarbayev reverses the increasing authoritarianism that began a decade ago, sent only its ambassador.

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