Sunday, December 4, 2005

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — President Nursultan Nazarbayev yesterday staged his last re-election, promising that it would be more honest than previous votes and would win his Central Asian country international recognition.

Mr. Nazarbayev, 65, officially got more than 90 percent of the vote in 1991 when he ran in his first election — without an opponent — and then 78 percent in 1998, when his opponents were backward-looking communists with little financing.

Now, analysts here say, what counts is not that Mr. Nazarbayev will be re-elected — that’s a given — but whether the vote will be marred by less fraud than the previous votes. The Central Election Commission reported that turnout was 75 percent and that results were expected to be announced today.

Yesterday was particularly quiet in Almaty, and voting appeared orderly. In one precinct, unregistered voters were allowed to vote as long as they wrote a note explaining why they needed to vote there and pledged not to vote again. It was impossible to verify how widespread the policy was.

Altynbek Sarsenbayev, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Nazarbayev’s main opponent, Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, said yesterday evening that multiple voting was widespread.

Alikhan Baimenov, another opposition candidate, said after voting that he expected to go on to a runoff with Mr. Nazarbayev if the vote was not rigged.

Karim Massimov, a senior presidential aide, said he thought the election, and the campaign before it, represented “a big progress.” He added, “We’ve had by far the best campaign in Kazakhstan, and in the region.”

If the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agrees in its assessment to be issued today, leaders in Washington and in European capitals eager to share in Kazakhstan’s oil-fueled boom will breathe a sigh of relief.

Come next September, they might give Mr. Nazarbayev the international legitimacy he has so vigorously pursued — to become the first post-Soviet state to chair, for a year, the OSCE, an organization that so far has been run only by countries with impeccable democratic credentials.

The United States has been urging Mr. Nazarbayev to trade the kind of improbably large election victories still seen as necessary to earn respect in authoritarian Central Asian societies for lesser margins and more transparent elections that will enhance his relations with the West.

“We welcome Kazakhstan’s desire to become chairman in office,” said U.S. Ambassador John Ordway recently. “Any chairman has to exemplify the core values of the organization, and this will require that they demonstrate that in a serious way.”

U.S. companies are the biggest investors in Kazakhstan’s huge but hard-to-reach oil deposits and will help make the country four times the size of Texas one of the world’s top five oil exports in 15 years or so, analysts say.

Although Kazakhstan’s security is closely tied to Russia, several rounds of talks about upgrading Kazakhstan’s “partnership for peace” with NATO have been held.

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