Kazakh president wins re-election

Nazarbayev scores resounding victory despite clouded campaign


MOSCOW -- Kazakhstan's only post-Soviet leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, handily won re-election yesterday, giving him another seven years at the helm of a regime that has nurtured Central Asia's largest economy but failed to bring the oil-rich republic any closer to democracy.

The Central Elections Commission said today that Nazarbayev had won 91 percent of the votes in yesterday's election, according to the initial count. His closest challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, got 6.6 percent.

Seventy-seven percent of registered voters cast ballots, the commission said.

The economy of Kazakhstan, blessed with vast oil and gas reserves, has grown under Nazarbayev by up to 10 percent in each of the past six years. The Central Asian state has a burgeoning middle class, a rarity in a region saddled with rampant poverty.

But like other apparatchiks who went on to lead their nations after the 1991 Soviet collapse, Nazarbayev has a track record of suppressing political opponents, controlling the news media and manipulating elections to ensure that he and his allies stay in power.

That pattern appeared to continue through the run-up to yesterday's election. International observers say the campaign was marred by the government's seizure of pro-opposition newspapers, a ban on public discussion of oil-related corruption allegations involving Nazarbayev, and claims that opposition activists were arrested and beaten by Kazakh security forces.

The campaign was also clouded by the killing of Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a prominent opposition activist who was fatally shot at his home Nov. 13. Though he had two bullet wounds to his chest and one to his head, Kazakh authorities suggested he committed suicide. Nurkadilov once worked in Nazarbayev's government but left last year after accusing the Kazakh leader of corruption.

"When it comes to the development of democracy, we haven't seen any real steps in this direction," said Erkin Tukumov, head of the Central Asian Foundation for Democracy Development. "In Kazakhstan, we can only talk about cosmetic changes."

Nazarbayev's four opponents were never regarded as strong contenders. His chief rival, Tuyakbai, is a former speaker of Kazakhstan's lower house of Parliament and leader of the For a Just Kazakhstan Party. His platform included a promise to channel half of Kazakhstan's oil and gas revenues directly into the bank accounts of Kazakh citizens.

Speaking to reporters after voting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, Nazarbayev said he did everything he could to "hold this election in an open and competition-based way."

Observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are expected to release their conclusions about the election later today, an evaluation that is likely to be watched closely by the Bush administration.

Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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