ASTANA – President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has set Oct.1, 2014, as the date of Kazakhstan’s next Senate election, the country’s eighth since achieving independence in 1991. Eighty candidates, including four women, have registered with the Central Election Commission as of Aug. 13, 65 self-nominated.
The election was announced on Aug. 1, and nominations for the 16 available Senate seats will be made from Aug. 2-31. Registration of candidates will run until Sept. 11 and campaigns will be conducted Sept. 12-29.
Senators in Kazakhstan serve six-year terms, with half of the elected ones up for re-election every three years. This round of elections will replace senators elected in December of 2008. The most recent Senate election was held in 2011. Kazakhstan’s Parliamentary election legislation mandates that elections must be competitive, meaning there must be at least two candidates listed on the ballot for each available seat.
Of the bicameral Parliament’s 47 senators, 15 are appointed by the President at his discretion. Appointees come with various backgrounds, including some from political parties and the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, a national body organised to provide additional representation for the country’s many ethnic groups. It is expected that new appointments will begin to be made during and after the election, Marat Sarsembayev, a member of Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission, told The Astana Times in an interview on Aug. 13.
The main group of 32 senators rest are elected by secret ballot vote by the collected maslikhats (elected representative bodies of the regions), the members of which have been directly elected by the voters of their regions. Two senators are elected from each region, as well as from Astana and Almaty City. One seat from each of these regions will be contested in the current election.
In order to be eligible for election, Senate candidates must be 30 years old, citizens of Kazakhstan, residents of Kazakhstan for at least 10 years and residents in the regions they hope to represent for at least three years. They are required to have a higher education – at least a bachelor’s degree or the Soviet-era equivalent specialist degree, Sarsembayev said, and at least five years of work experience. They must also collect the support, in the form of signatures, of at least 10 percent of the maslikhat deputies in their region before they can register. Each deputy can offer his support to only one candidate. (Giving a signature for support is not a guarantee of a vote.)
Candidates can nominate themselves or be nominated by local maslikhats or political parties and public associations, though Sarsembayev said that political parties have declined to make any nominations in this election. Candidates are not required to be part of a political party or to disclose whether they are, though most do, he said.
Candidates must pay a 299,490 tenge (US$1,646) registration fee in order to run. The fee is returned to candidates who receive at least 5 percent of the vote, a variation of a common practice around the world. Candidates will be given 395,000 tenge (US$2,170) for campaigning costs. That amount has been calculated to include the costs of a 15-minute television presentation, a 10-minute radio spot, the printing of campaign materials and two advertisements in local or regional print media, plus meeting space and transport costs. They may also raise an electoral fund of up to 13.98 million tenge (US$76,792).
One hundred thirty-six million tenge (US$747,253) will be allocated from the national budget for the election.
Sarsembayev called the low number of women registered so far “a pity,” but noted that women are active in Kazakhstan’s lower house, the Mazhilis. There, their representation is above the global average at 25.2 percent, though women’s weak representation in its Senate brings the combined average of 19.8 percent slightly below global averages (as calculated by the International Parliamentary Union, the international organisation of Parliaments).
On the day the election was announced, Chairman of the Central Election Commission Kuandyk Turgankulov told a Central Communications Service briefing that international representatives would be invited to observe the election. “The Kazakh Foreign Ministry and the Central Election Commission will open an international observers’ institute for the purposes of realising the principle of openness and transparency during the organisation of election campaigns,” he said.
About 250 international observers attended the last election, Sarsembayev recalled, and said he expected about the same number to come to this one. Organisations like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), however, are not interested in indirect elections and will not be coming.
“We suppose that there will be international organisations from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), from these two,” he said adding that observers were expected from neighbouring states and from across Asia.
Elections can also be observed by journalists, candidates’ proxies and other interested parties, Sarsembayev said, and observers are allowed to bring one translator. “Yes, political parties, public associations, they have the right to observe. Journalists from local newspapers [and] proxies of candidates also have the right to be an observer. Proxies are the main figures in observation, because they represent the interests of candidates, so they’re looking the most critically!” So far, he said, they have received no complaints, just many requests for clarification of the legislation.
Organisations such as the OSCE, which has sent observers to direct elections in Kazakhstan, have never judged the country’s elections free and fair.
“Of course, they made some critical observations,” Sarsembayev said of past observers. “In most of these cases, we didn’t agree with this or that critical observations, but, of course, there were some matters, there were some critical observations that we agreed with, and we try to address them.” The Central Election Commission of Kazakhstan reviews, discusses and sometimes disputes criticisms from all international observation bodies, he said.
“In some cases, we convinced them that they’re not so right. In some cases, they convinced us that we are not right in this or that matter or aspect of the election. Of course, their assistance is useful for us,” he said.
Kazakhstan also likes to do its own observing. “In some cases, we tell them, ‘Please invite us to your countries, we want to see your experience, your rich experience in these matters.’ For us, it is more useful not only to hear, but to see with our own eyes, so we can see the process of their elections,” Sarsembayev said. “And Great Britain, they invited us; the United States invited us … and we were observers there, and it was very interesting and useful for us. And this is, to my mind, one of the best ways for us to study, to improve our process in our country.”
Senate election results are to be calculated by no later than Oct. 7.