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Economic Prosperity Contributes to Nazarbayev Victory in Kazakh Election

(Washington--December 9, 2005) Kazakhstan's economic prosperity led voters to overwhelmingly support President Nursultan Nazarbayev during last week's presidential election, according to two RFE/RL experts. RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan and RFE/RL Regional Analyst Daniel Kimmage told a briefing audience yesterday that -- although election results were likely tampered with considering that, officially, Nazarbayev won 91 percent of votes cast -- the result was based in large part on Kazakhstan's growing economy, which has raised the standard of living in the country.

Sharipzhan said that he was both "surprised and not surprised about the election results." He was surprised, because Nazarbayev's vote total of 91 percent seemed reminiscent of Soviet elections. On the other hand, Sharipzhan said that he knew Nazarbayev would win the election ever since he announced his intent to run for a third term. The main question, according to Sharipzhan, was "whether the Kazakh opposition ever had a chance to hold a competitive election campaign." According to Sharipzhan, the difficulty opposition candidates faced in conducting their campaigns and untimely deaths -- ruled as suicides -- of prominent opposition leaders all served to chill the political environment. Kazakh independent newspapers were also regularly confiscated before distribution, thus denying voters access to alternative sources of information and analysis about the various candidates. And finally, Sharipzhan said that, although opposition candidates participated in a first-ever televised debate in Kazakhstan (one in which Nazarbayev did not participate), many people in Kazakhstan could not watch it because electrical service was disrupted in parts of the country.

Sharipzhan said that Kazakhstan's economy is significantly more prosperous than those of neighboring Central Asian countries. The boom in oil prices -- Kazakhstan's major economic resource and revenue generator -- has provided the government, which controls the oil industry, a lot of money for internal investment. The government has used the funds to create jobs and help fuel the development of a middle class. The economy has even attracted "illegal aliens from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to take lower paying jobs in the Kazakh economy. " As a result of Kazakhstan's strong economy, Sharipzhan said that most Kazakhs, as well as the country's ethnic minority communities, either support Nazerbaev or simply do not care enough about politics to vote against him.

Kimmage concurred with Sharipzhan that the election results were not a surprise and that Nazarbayev is the dominant political figure in Kazakhstan. Kimmage added, "even if there had been a free and fair election" Nazarbayev would still have won this election, because of the relative economic prosperity in the country. According to Kimmage, Nazarbayev has promised that "democratization" will come with time, but that first the economy must be put in order. Kimmage said that the Kazakh political system, as a "managed democracy" still runs the risk of a "catastrophic failure" as Nazarbayev begins his third term as President.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.