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In perpetrating the violations documented below in this report, the government is apparently seeking to block the opposition from the electoral process and to limit its effectiveness. In two rounds of elections held in the last two years months—the December 2002 parliamentary by-elections and the September 2003 local elections—the government manipulated the vote, again to ensure its own dominance of elected office.

The international community has consistently criticized the conduct of Kazakhstan’s elections, noting that they fell short of international standards for free and fair elections47 The conduct of the September 2003 and December 2002 elections indicates that Kazakhstan has made little if any progress toward meeting international standards for free and fair elections.

December 2002 Parliamentary By-Elections

Irregularities in the December 2002 parliamentary by-elections included erroneous and outdated voter lists, the use of gifts and bribes to win pro-presidential candidate votes, the blocking of independent election monitors’ observation activities, an overwhelming devotion of state media time to pro-government candidates, the denial of the use of public halls for opposition candidates, the removal of opposition candidates from the ballot just hours before the opening of the vote, and intimidation of voters by government employees.48 The by-elections took place in three provinces. In all instances, a pro-government candidate was declared the winner.

Seven candidates stood for office in the northern Pavlodar province, but the real contest was between Karlygash Zhakianova, wife of imprisoned DVK leader Galymzhan Zhakianov, and Vasilii Maksimonko, an official at the local aluminum factory. Maksimonko won the election with 51 percent of the vote.49

The vote in Pavlodar was marred by voter manipulation, harassment of students working on the election campaign, and coercion of school pupils. One Zhakianova campaign worker claimed to Human Rights Watch that a young teenage girl had told her that teachers at the girl’s school in Pavlodar had advised students to instruct their parents to vote for Maksimonko, and that school administrators had threatened to dismiss schoolteachers should they cast votes for Zhakianova. 50 Uandek Zimbaev and Nurzhan Zhakianov, two student members of Zhakianova’s election team, told Human Rights Watch that they were among a group of eight arbitrarily detained by police for six hours when hanging campaign posters in Pavlodar. Police demanded to how much they were being paid for working on the election campaign, asked them “Who are you going to vote for, Nazarbaev or Zhakianova?” and warned that if they continued to work on the campaign they would suffer retaliation at university.51

In Karaganda province, Senator Mukhtar Tinikeev won with 51 percent of the vote, after two of his four opponents—Bulat Abilov, co-chairman of the opposition Ak Zhol party, and Nikolai Usatov, of the pro-government Otan party—were removed from the ballot in the hours preceding the opening of the polls.52 The disqualification of Abilov and Usatov, on minor technical grounds, was announced just three days before the vote. Abilov appealed the decision to the district court, which ruled in his favor, but when the claim went forward on appeal the provincial court upheld the electoral commission decision just hours before the polls opened, taking voters completely by surprise. Observers noted that voters were not properly informed of the candidates’ removal from the ballot; they also recounted that some voters in protest refused to cast their ballot or simply wrote on the ballots “We’re for Abilov.”53

In addition to narrowing down the competition, government officials in Karaganda province took pains to obstruct scrutiny of the process. For instance, independent election monitor Marina Sabitova related how the head of the Karaganda provincial election commission had attempted to strike a deal with her in order to limit the number of independent election monitors.54 She and other election monitors in Karaganda also related instances of outdated and falsified voter lists, lower voter turnout than officially reported, proxy voting, and instances where election monitors were held at an unreasonably large distance from voters’ ballot boxes.55

One of the most shocking incidents of the 2002 parliamentary by-elections took place in Atryau, in western Kazakhstan. The candidates were Uzakkali Elubaev, a local district akim56 and member of the pro-presidential Otan Party, N.M. Makhashev, another local district akim, and Jumabai Dospanov, RNPK branch leader in Atyrau province.57 Elubaev swept the polls with 84 percent of the vote. Dospanov suffered what appeared to be an attempt on his life three days before the elections. He recounted that when traveling by car to meet with voters in Makhambetsk and Indersk districts one of the tires on his car fell off while the car was traveling at high speed. Later, Dospanov discovered that the screws on the tires had been deliberately loosened. 58 “My informant in the KNB told me that he hadn’t been able to warn me about the “accident,” which was [planned] to prevent me from participating in the elections,” said Dospanov.59

Prospects for Free and Fair Elections

The September 2003 maslikhat (local council) elections were swept by the pro-presidential party Otan, which ran unopposed in close to fifty percent of constituencies.60 Maslikhat elections are significant in that they provide political parties with a regional base and ensure political pluralism at the local and regional levels. Significantly, maslikhats also appoint members of election commissions, and elect the members of the Senate, the second half of Kazakhstan’s bi-cameral parliament.

Opposition members alleged that the government attempted to exclude their candidates from the ballot. In Koshketau city, Akmolinsk province, DVK members and other opposition candidates said that the government has obstructed their registration by requiring lengthy psychiatric tests.61 They charged that parliamentary deputies were unduly reluctant to sign their ballot applications,62 while other officials flooded them with arbitrary requests to submit certificates or statements.63

DVK representatives reported similar harassment in other provinces, designed to prevent opposition candidates from participating in the fall election.64 In Ust-Kamenogorsk, East Kazakhstan province, the head of the local DVK branch and the DVK election campaign director were accused of violating the administration code for participating in an unregistered public organization—i.e., the DVK.65 Daniel Danilevskii, the election campaign director, was previously charged with a violation of the administrative code back in December 2002 and so was already disqualified from participating in the September race.66 B. Tuleubaev, head of the DVK branch in Ust-Kamenogorsk, also had charges of administrative offense brought against him in July.67

47See “Republic of Kazakhstan: Parliamentary Elections ,” OSCE [online] (retrieved December 15, 2003). “The Republic of Kazakhstan: Presidential Elections,” OSCE [online], (retrieved December 15, 2003).

48 Human Rights Watch interviews with election candidates, election campaign workers, and independent election monitors, Kazakhstan, March-April 2003. Also, Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists (ASPI), “December 28, 2002 Interim Elections,” Almaty, 2003; Republican Network of Independent Monitors, “Final Report on the December 28, 2002 By-Elections to the Parliament of Kazakhstan in the Kurmangazinsky (16), Maikuduksky (32), and Toraigirsky (46) Districts,”Almaty, January 10, 2003; and DVK et al., “Parliamentary Deputy Election Observation Report in Toraigirsky District No. 46, Pavlodar province,” December 28, 2002.

49 Kazakhstan News Bulletin “Dec. 28 by-election results certified,” January 11, 2003 [online] (retrieved March 22, 2004).

50 Human Rights Watch interview with Natalia S., Pavlodar, April 17, 2003.

51 Human Rights Watch interviews with Uandek Zimbaev and Nurzhan Zhakianov, Pavlodar, April 17, 2003.

52RFE/RL Central Asia Report, January 2, 2003, Vol. 3, No. 1. Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists (ASPI).

53 Human Rights Watch interviews with Marina Sabitova and Lidia Mikhailovna, Karaganda, April 8 and 9, respectively; Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists, “Resultaty Exit Poll I Tsentrizbirkoma: sravnitel’niy analiz” (Exit Poll and Central Electoral Committee Results: A Comparative Analysis), Almaty, 2003; Dmitrii Mostovoi, “I Vso-taki Butiu sniali!” (“Butiu” Removed After All), Megapolis, no. 51(110), December 26, 2002.

54 Human Rights Watch interview with Marina Sabitova, Karaganda, April 8, 2003.

55 Ibid.; Human Rights Watch interview with Lidia Mikhailovna, independent election monitor, Karaganda, April 9, 2003.

56 An akim is a local head of government, for example, a mayor of a city or village, or governor of a province.

57 Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists (ASPI), “December 28, 2002 Interim Elections,” Almaty, 2003.

58 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jumabai Dospanov, June 19, 2003 and electronic communication, June 23, 2003.

59 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Jumabai Dospanov, June 19, 2003.

60 OSCE Centre in Almaty press release, “OSCE Centre Assesses Local Elections in Kazakhstan,” October 13, 2003; Maigul Kondikazakova, “Vzdrognut li “Otan” i “Asar,” esli obediniatsa Ak Zhol i DVK…?” (Will Otan and Asar Flinch if Ak Zhol and the DVK unite?), Navigator, October 22, 2003. The OSCE conducted only a limited observation of the elections and was unable to draw a conclusion as to whether the elections met OSCE standards.

61 Under the Law on Elections, potential candidates must submit to the Central Electoral Commission documents certifying their mental health.

62 Under the Law on Elections, government officials must certify candidate nominations.

63 On their mental health, for example. DVK press releases, Akmolinsk province, July 10, 11, 14, and 16, 2003.

64 Electronic communication from Vladimir Kozlov, DVK press secretary, Almaty, July 11, 2003.

65 DVK Ust-Kamenogorsk branch electoral campaign press release, “Khuliganskoe napadenie na predstavitel’stvo DVK v Ust- Kamenogorske” (Hooligan Attack on DVK Office in Ust-Kamenogorsk), July 16, 2003.

66 Ibid.; See also section on Maira Obenova.

[67] DVK electoral campaign press release, Ust- Kamenogorsk, July 16, 2003. See also section on Maira Obenova.

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April 2004