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Kazakhstan: Opposition Left To 'Find Whatever Space Is Possible'

August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Experts say the August 18 elections that created a one-party parliament in Kazakhstan could affect Astana's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 and harm the country's image as a Central Asian leader. But, the director of studies at Freedom House, Christopher Walker, told RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah there is still a significant role for the political opposition to play in Kazakh society.

RFE/RL: Some experts say the outcome of the Kazakh elections reflects the Kazakh people's will and shows that voters have no confidence in the opposition.

Christopher Walker: I think the larger issue in the Kazakh context is whether all of the key elements that are ingredients for fair and open elections were present in the Kazakh case. That is to say, over the course of the election process, were there opportunities for all of the parties to have access to mass media in a balanced and equal way? Were there also limits on state-administrated resources that didn't give the dominant, incumbent power unfair advantages? I think in these cases -- as in previous elections -- there were very serious questions raised about these sorts of critical issues by, for example, the OSCE and other observers.

So it is really a larger question of whether voters in the country are able to make an informed choice and have no real restrictions on their on their choices -- and I don't believe that is the case in Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL: Is there any role left to play for the Kazakh opposition between now and the next election campaign?

Walker: I think there certainly is. The opposition in Kazakhstan should be playing a meaningful role in scrutinizing the performance and the activities of the ruling powers in the country. This becomes increasingly difficult under the current circumstances. I think, at this point, they have to find whatever space is possible there to play this rightful role. But there is no question that has become increasingly difficult and, naturally, to the detriment of ordinary Kazakh citizens.

RFE/RL: Would the Kazakh election results that created a one-party system in the country affect Astana's bid to win the OSCE chairmanship in 2009?

Walker: I think it is fair to say that if these elections had met international standards, they would not -- in and of themselves -- have argued for the OSCE chairmanship for Kazakhstan. I think the fact they did not meet these standards makes it clear that -- at least at this time -- Kazakhstan should not hold the OSCE chairmanship.

RFE/RL: Could the way Kazakhstan conducted the parliamentary elections have any impact on the rest of Central Asia?

Walker: I think the challenge in the immediate region and for a number of other post-Soviet republics is that the parliaments are not playing the sort of role they could and should be. And, as I mentioned earlier, I think the role for parliaments in these highly controlled presidential systems, where the executive power is so dominant, is to open the door for political space through a parliamentary setting. And already in many of the countries in Central Asia, you have a situation where the parliaments are unable to play a meaningful role in having an independent voice and scrutinizing the actions of the executive. This is to the detriment of these countries' developments.

I think to the extent that Kazakhstan has been looked to as a leader in the region by the outside world, this is a disappointment in terms of having no voice whatsoever in the new parliament for any opposition parties.


Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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