Monday, December 5, 2005

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — President Nursultan Nazarbayev won 91 percent of the vote in his final election Sunday after 16 years of ruling Kazakhstan, a result that stretched credulity even among his supporters and prompted a failing grade from the region’s main election-monitoring group yesterday.

“This will strengthen his grip on the country, but it’s going to seriously damage his international credibility,” said a Western ambassador who declined to be identified.

His election to another seven-year term exceeded his 1991 race, when he ran unopposed and won 90 percent.

But unlike in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where rigged votes drew protest demonstrations that eventually ousted unpopular regimes, no demonstrations were reported here.

“We’re not calling for any demonstrations because we’re afraid the authorities will shoot, and we don’t want to be responsible for a bloodbath,” said Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the leader among Mr. Nazarbayev’s four challengers, at an emotional press conference yesterday.

“Welcome to Turkmenistan,” said Altynbek Sarsenbayev, his deputy campaign manager, in a reference to the region’s most totalitarian state.

Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, a political adviser to Mr. Nazarbayev, said the president himself was surprised by the result.

“We expected he’d win 75 percent. It seems that the protest voters simply stayed home because they realized how popular the president is,” he said in a telephone interview. “There was no falsification whatsoever.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote did not meet international standards for democratic elections. It found the authorities restricted the candidates’ access to the voters, while the media shunned their candidates and advertising.

“I much regret the authorities did not provide a level playing field,” said Audrey Glover, the head of the OSCE mission, in a telephone interview from Astana, the capital. “This happened despite assurances from the president that the election would be free and fair.”

Britain, as chairman of the European Union, issued a statement expressing “disappointment.”

Opinion polls generally had shown Mr. Nazarbayev with support in the 60 percent to 65 percent range, with Mr. Tuyakbai between 15 percent and 20 percent and Alikhan Baimenov, the third vote-getter, with 5 percent to 10 percent.

But the official results gave Mr. Tuyakbai 6.6 percent and Mr. Baimenov 1.6 percent.

Sabit Jusupov, a leading pollster and sociologist, said gloomily that 91 percent “is simply too high.”

Mr. Nazarbayev, 65, had been campaigning for yearlong rotating chairmanship of the OSCE, the largest human rights and election-monitoring organization in Europe.

Victor-Yves Ghebali, an OSCE specialist at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, said the lopsided result “means they now have no chance at all, barring an extraordinary reversal” before next September, when the chairman is elected by consensus. Traditionally the post has only gone to countries with impeccable democratic credentials.

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