01/16/2012, 00.00
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Two new parties enter Kazakh parliament for the first time

In power since 1989, President Nazarbayev talks about a willingness and capacity for renewal. However, the opposition complains that the two new parties are an expression of the same elite. Following clashes in December, the energy-rich country is looking for stability.
Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kazak President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party won an overwhelming victory with 80 per cent of the vote in yesterday’s parliamentary elections. However, for the first time, two new parties will be present in the country’s parliament since it became independent from the Soviet Union.

According to the Central Election Commission (set to release official results on Monday), the pro-business Az Khol party won 7.5 per cent of the vote, whilst the Communist party won 7.2, and both will be represented in the Majlis, the lower house of parliament.

Under the country’s new election law, parties that get 7 per cent of the vote would be represented in parliament. Four other parties failed to meet that number. The party with the second most votes would be represented even if it did not meet the threshold.

In power since 1989, President Nazarbayev had the law adopted in order to give the opposition some representation.

Rich in oil, uranium and other important raw materials, Kazakhstan has had steady economic growth. However, in 2010 it saw strikes by oil workers in the energy-rich western regions, demanding better pay and the right to set up independent unions.

Despite a crackdown by state-owned oil companies, including the firing thousands of workers and arrest and conviction of strike leaders, protests have continued.

In December, clashes between demonstrators and police broke out, leaving 16 people dead and more than 100 wounded.

The president’s oldest daughter Dariga, who ran for the Nur Otan party, welcomed the elections as an important sign of the changes underway.

Opposition parties disagree, calling the elections a sham since most of them were not allowed to participate on procedural grounds or had some of their most popular leaders excluded from running.

Analysts note that the country’s much vaunted change is in name only since the leaders of the two new parties are part of the same pro-Nazarbayev political elite that has favoured economic development, especially of some groups, over social and political rights.

Nazarbayev has always boasted about his country’s stability compared to other nations of the region. More recently, he has tried to refurbish its image after the wave of strikes and protests.

Opposition parties now fear stability will be pursued at the expense of political and social rights.

Voting also took place amid tensions in the city of Zhanaozen, scene of protests last month and currently under a state of emergency.
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