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Kazakh President's party wins all seats



ASTANA, Kazakhstan, (The Associated Press): The party of President Nursultan Nazarbayev won all available seats in Kazakhstan's new parliament, according to preliminary results announced Sunday. The tally was quickly condemned by the opposition.

An observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Sunday that although a number of international standards were not met, the elections showed welcome progress toward democracy.

Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989 when it was still a Soviet republic, had pledged that the elections would be free and fair. He is pushing for Kazakhstan to become chairman in 2009 of the OSCE, which had delayed making a decision because of concerns about the country's commitment to democracy.

None of the elections held by Kazakhstan since it became independent after the 1991 Soviet collapse had been assessed as free and fair by the OSCE.

The Nur Otan party received 88 percent of Saturday's vote and no other party cleared the 7 percent barrier needed to win a seat in the legislature, according to results released by the Central Elections Commission.

The country's two largest opposition groups said the figures were manipulated.

"We don't recognize the outcome of the election. They absolutely do not reflect the actual alignment of political forces and the social support they draw," Burikhan Nurmukhamedov, a leader of the Ak Zhol party, was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.

The elections commission said Ak Zhol had received about 3.25 percent of the vote, but Nurmukhamedov said the party's own surveys indicated it won about 12 percent.

"We have definitely won those votes," he said, adding that the party was preparing reports on voting irregularities to be presented to the elections commission and the prosecutor-general, Interfax said.

"The elections have been utterly profaned," said Ualikhan Kaisarov of the National Social Democratic Party, which received 4.62 percent in the official tally, according to Interfax.

An observer mission from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group formed by Russia and other former Soviet republics, gave a positive assessment of the elections, calling them "free and transparent," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, quoting CIS secretary Vladimir Rushailo.

The CIS observers consider the elections "a reflection of the stable social and economic development of Kazakhstan," said Rushailo, a former Russian interior minister.

The country's stability is important to regional powers Russia and China because of its substantial oil and gas reserves. The United States also has sought greater access to Kazakh energy resources.

The Saturday vote was to choose 98 members of the lower house of parliament. Nine more seats will be filled by members of the Assembly of Peoples, a powerless body designed to give a voice to ethnic minorities.

Voter turnout was just under 65 percent nationwide, the elections commission said. In the 2004 parliamentary election it was 56.8 percent.

The early election, called in the wake of constitutional amendments pushed through by Nazarbayev in May, was widely seen a maneuver by Nazarbayev to improve Kazakhstan's democratic image while maintaining his own grip on power.

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