On January 10, Kazakhstan held legislative elections in which the ruling party, Nur Otan, won 71,09 % of the popular vote, according to the Central Elections Committee. Other parties participating in the elections were the «Ak Zhol» Party (10,95 %), the People’s Party of Kazakhstan (9,10 %), while the parties «Auyl» and «ADAL» received respectively 5,29 % and 3,5 7% and did not make it over the 7%-threshold. All parties running in the elections are widely considered to be loyal to the ruling regime, while the country’s political opposition was not allowed to run.
In its preliminary findings and conclusions, the OSCE ODIHR states that the elections lacked genuine competition and that limits imposed on the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms restrict the political space. Through its work in Kazakhstan, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee has followed the situation as bureaucratic obstacles effectively hindered the country’s domestic opposition to register and participate in the elections, while tax authorities, in the last months before the elections, launched investigations against civil society groups involved in election observation in what appeared an effort to thwart the activities of independent elections observers.
On, election day law-enforcement personnel detained dozens of peaceful protesters protesting the lack of political competition, while forces from the Special Rapid Response Unit surrounded groups civil society activists in an «iron ring» manoeuvre on the streets and effectively detained them on the spot for up to ten hours. Among the detained on election day was Gulzada Serzhan, one of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s partners in Kazakhstan. According to credible reports from Kazakhstani civil society actors, election officials in numerous instances interfered with the rights of independent elections observers and hindered them from fully carrying out their legitimate activities.
While detentions and harassment of peaceful protesters marred election day in Kazakhstan, the deeper, underlying issue of the elections remains the lack of room for a genuine political opposition. I call on Kazakhstani authorities to guarantee space for the political opposition, in line with the country’s constitution and its international obligations.
Geir Hønneland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee