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Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

How 1994 Kazakhstan Parliamentary Election was held

How 1994 Kazakhstan Parliamentary Election was held - e-history.kz

In 1991, Kazakhstan achieved independence and entered the international arena. Its abundant natural resources, especially oil, have attracted foreign businesses. The country's enormous size and location between Russia and China, and its inheritance of Soviet nuclear missiles, have drawn the attention of neighboring and Western governments seeking to prevent nuclear proliferation, to develop new resources and to fend off dangers in the changed geo-strategic environment.

In this context, it might seem perfectly logical for Kazakhstan, in March 1994, to hold its first elections to parliament and regional and local councils since becoming independent. Simply for the purposes of house-cleaning and electing representative organs with greater legitimacy, an election would have made sense. But new elections had already been slated for December 1994, and local observers professed bafflement when asked why Kazakhstan's Supreme Soviet was closed down in December 1993 and pre-term elections scheduled for March.

The backdrop of Kazakhstan's parliamentary election seems to be related to events in Russia, as well as to developments in Kazakhstan itself. In October 1993, after President Boris Yeltsin won his confrontation with Russia's legislature, he ordered the dissolution of many local and city soviets. Since the summer of 1993, he had been campaigning against soviets in general. Shortly afterwards, local soviets in Kazakhstan began to "dissolve themselves». President Nazarbaev affirmed to an Interfax correspondent that he approved of the process. Nazarbaev in a 1993 publication voiced warnings about «local elites using the democratization of social life and the de facto independence of the regions (oblasts as levers for monopolistic control of resources». As possible confirmation of this view, in March 1994, Nazarbaev ordered the repeal of an earlier Supreme Soviet decision to create free economic zones in nine of Kazakhstan's regions. A Kazakh official explained that the question of economic zones formed on the basis of oblasts «goes beyond a strictly economic scope, taking on a political nuance - the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan could be threatened». 

Most local analysts described the Supreme Soviet itself as quite pliable and obedient. Still, various deputies, backed by Kazakh nationalist parties, in October 1993 protested his plans for an economic union treaty with Russia and remaining within the ruble zone. In November, the Supreme Soviet rejected a resolution giving Nazarbaev and the government powers to speed decisions on economic reforms. At that time, Nazarbaev proclaimed the need for strong executive authority and «a more professional parliament».

In this context, Nazarbaev apparently wanted to consolidate power, and by December, he was ready to move. On December 10, the Supreme Soviet voted to cease its activities, and to give Nazarbaev and local administrators extraordinary powers in the interim. Pre-term elections to parliament and regional and local councils were scheduled for March 7, 1994.

The Context of the Election

The election took place in difficult economic circumstances. Like other newly independent states, Kazakhstan has suffered a severe decline in production, hyper-inflation and a breakdown of links with other former republics. Many factories have been idled and many apartments, especially in the northern sections, have endured heating shortages during a bitterly cold winter.

In addition, Kazakhstan has also undergone the trauma associated with introducing a new currency. The tenge entered circulation in November 1993, after efforts to reach agreement on remaining in the ruble zone foundered. Nazarbaev refused to accept Moscow's onerous conditions, saying they would dilute Kazakhstan's economic sovereignty, and also complained about Moscow's dumping of old rubles in Kazakhstan.

Growing inter-ethnic tensions between Kazakhs and Russians and between Kazakhstan and Russia also colored the election. Kazakhstan's population at that time was about 17 million; of that number, Kazakhs constitute about 43%, Russians about 37%, with the remainder divided among other Slavs, mostly Ukrainians (seven percent), and smaller numbers of other groups, including Germans, Koreans, Tatars, Uzbeks and Uigurs. Because of Kazakhstan's politics was driven by its demography, for months before the elections, evidence began to mount of intensified ethnic tensions. The US State Department's 1993 human rights report on Kazakhstan noted increasing discrimination in favor of Kazakhs in employment, government and state-controlled enterprises, as well as education, housing and other areas. Kazakhs also increasingly predominated in government and state enterprises. Moreover, many Slavs and Germans have emigrated in the last few years, as confrontations between Russians and Kazakhs in public places have become more frequent, but there have no reports of organized ethnic violence. Сountry's relations with Russia also could not save the day. For some time, Russian policy towards the other former Soviet republics has been growing more aggressive, but the trend has especially intensified since Russia's December 1993 parliamentary election, which brought to power communists and ultra-nationalists. Friendship Treaties between Russia and the Central Asian states commit them to defend the human rights of Russians there. But Russia's Foreign Ministry has been pressing for the introduction of dual citizenship in all the former Soviet republics, while all except Turkmenistan are resisting the attempt to undermine their sovereignty.

Russian grievances and activism are especially strong in northern Kazakhstan, where some groups have called for incorporating those regions into Russia. To illustrate the state of affairs there, State Counselor Kairbek Suleimenov visited the Cossacks of Petropavlovsk and promised them that their association would be registered if they added to their charter the words: «The Association of Cossacks fosters the strengthening of Kazakhstan's borders and promotes their defense». He also proposed that the Cossacks put Kazakhstan's state symbol into the Cossack symbol. The Cossacks refused his offer.

Inter-ethnic tension, and concern about the implications of such tension, informed every aspect of the March 7 election. Apart from general concerns, Russians pointed out that only 128 Russian candidates had been registered, compared to 566 Kazakhs. Many people assumed that most Kazakhs would vote for Kazakhs, Russians would vote for Russians, and voters generally would vote for individuals, rather than parties - if they voted at all. 

Structure of Parliament

The new Supreme Kenges has 177 members, of whom 135 were elected from territorial constituencies. The remaining 42 seats -- two deputies each from Kazakhstan's 19 oblasts and the cities of Almaty and Leninsk (Baikonur) - were contested by 64 candidates on the state or president's list.


The Central Election Commission (CEC) carried out the law's provisions and ran the election. Its members were elected by the Supreme Soviet at the suggestion of the President. The CEC created the 135 territorial districts, set the budget for candidates' expenses, and facilitated registered candidates' attempts to appeal to the electorate through the media and election posters. Candidates could not spend their own funds; the state bore all the election's expenses.

Registered parties could nominate candidates, as could registered civic organizations. To be registered, an organization must submit a list of 3000 members from at least 12 of the country's 19 oblasts, including personal information about members. (Various parties refused to register, protesting the requirement to supply such information.) All candidates, including independents, needed 3,000 signatures to run, and had to give five times their monthly wage to the local election commission; those who received five percent of the vote in their constituency got their money back.

The law gave each candidate 10 minutes of airtime on radio and television, and 100 lines of newspaper space. Self-nominated candidates got an additional five minutes on regional and city television or radio. Candidates could not promote the ideas of "racial, national religious, social, including class or group (estate), exceptionality or hostility». They could not call for the violent change of the existing constitutional system, violation of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan, or of human rights and freedoms.

Citizens of Kazakhstan who were at least 18 years old could vote. The law stipulated that individuals could only vote themselves, not on behalf of family members (as was generally done in the USSR). For the election to be valid, 50 percent of the electorate had to participate, and 50 percent of voters in each constituency had to turn out.


Political parties are weakly developed in Kazakhstan, and the authorities have registered only three: the Union of National Unity of Kazakhstan (SNEK), the People's Congress, and the Socialists.

SNEK was formed in January 1993, and most of its members were former Communist Party functionaries. SNEK's program advocated moderate privatization, attracting foreign investment, and maintaining good relations with Russia while opposing dual citizenship or making Russian a state language.

The Socialist Party (the renamed Communist Party) claims the largest membership of any party, with at least 30,000 members, and retains many resources and long-established networks. The party calls for slower privatization, greater protection for pensioners and others hit hard by market reforms, and keeping industries open through subsidies, if necessary. A spokesman of the Socialists, asked by an international observer at a press conference about the appropriateness of a presidential list of candidates, said he had no complaints: «I don't think we're ready for real democracy».

The People's Congress Party is headed by Olzhas Suleimenov, the poet who led the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement. Suleimenov told international observers that his party backs inter-ethnic harmony and sees Russia and Kazakhstan as the core of a future confederation with a common economic space throughout the former USSR. The party opposes shock therapy and favors a bi-cameral parliament. One People's Congress candidate told Commission staff that the party was trying to distance itself from SNEK, «which the people see as a nomenklatura party».

Civic Organizations

Civic organizations, though not formally political parties, could, if registered with the Ministry of Justice, also nominate candidates. They ran the gamut from the Union of Architects to veterans' societies. Various openly nationalist Kazakh organizations have been active in politics since 1989-90, but have not been registered. Azat was a mostly Kazakh organization which arose in 1990 to defend Kazakh national consciousness, language and traditions, and advocated "decolonization" of Kazakhstan. Zheltoksan ("December," to commemorate the riots of December 1986) placed somewhat more emphasis on redress living standards between the mostly rural Kazakhs and largely urban Russians. Azat and Zheltoksan merged in October 1992. Alash was a more radical nationalist organization. Alash could not nominate candidates, but its deputy chairman ran as an independent. His newspaper advertisement proposed, instead of dual citizenship, introducing the category of permanent residents, who would differ from citizens only in their inability to vote and be elected. He also advocated distributing land free of charge to Kazakhs, based on the number of family members, while guaranteeing non-Kazakhs the right to lease land for life. Finally, he urged an independent course between Moscow and Washington. Many Kazakh nationalist groups have joined together in the National Democratic Party. The NDP was not registered in time for the March election and could not nominate candidates. 

Among Russian organizations, LAD, which is registered, is the most politically active and was the most engaged in the election. Its stated goal is to preserve the ethnic identity, culture, and languages of the Slavs and promote their spiritual rebirth in Kazakhstan. LAD called for the creation of a Slavic university, the equal rights of all to a share of national property, and to participate in the administration of the state. The two priority issues for LAD, however, were making Russian a state language and legalizing dual citizenship. (At that time, only those Kazakhs who fled Stalin's horrors and return to their homeland could have dual citizenship if the other country permits.) LAD appealed for a delay in the implementation of a law requiring people to accept citizenship of Kazakhstan; on December 23, 1993, Nazarbaev issued a decree extending the deadline until March 1995. During a March 3 campaign address on television, a LAD representative made many of these points, urged voters to come to the polls, and also advised them "not to rely on overseas uncles" -- a clear reference to the United States. 

Another organization worth mentioning, considering the subsequent election results, is the Federation of Kazakh Trade Unions. Closely allied to the government -- which has harassed independent trade unions -- the Federation's program naturally focused on economic goals. These included moderating economic change to take account of those hurt by market reforms, bringing wages into line with prices, paying wages on time, and raising subsidies to low-income groups.


The CEC invited foreign election monitors, and over 100 observers reportedly arrived. Apart from western countries, observers came from various other former Soviet republics, including a large delegation from Kyrgyzstan, which was preparing for its own parliamentary election. The observer delegation that wound up having the greatest impact on the election was the one fielded by the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which included parliamentarians from eight countries.


Nomination of candidates took place between December 27 and January 25, with registration following from January 26 through February 8. There were, in all, 754 registered candidates for the parliament's 177 seats. The schedule left candidates less than one month, from February 9 through March 5, for active campaigning.

Candidates received their allotted 10 minutes of free airtime on television and radio; candidates could decide themselves whether to use the time all at on several appearances. The CEC made up and distributed 1000 posters for each candidate (Commission staff saw them plastered around Almaty). By design, they were virtually identical in format.

Candidates, whether independents, nominated by civic organizations, political parties or the "state" list, published their 100 lines in newspapers. With so little space, their programs were extremely general, calling, for example, for economic reform without harming the interests of the needy, pensioners and children. Notably, practically all stressed the need to maintain inter-ethnic harmony. One candidate, for instance, urged voters to "guard as the apple of our eye our inter-ethnic accord, mutual understanding and tolerance».

Several candidates told Commission staff they had not organized meetings with voters. They explained that voters were passive and cynical anyway, and besides, many factories were closed so it would have been difficult to arrange meetings with large groups of workers. Finally, the lack of fuel made it difficult to travel, and, in fact, to gather the required 3,000 signatures for independent candidates.

Other candidates raised another problem they had encountered: the law required them to pay five months' wages to local election commissions. But they had only received two months' wages since the introduction of Kazakstan's new currency, which obligated them to borrow money to enter the race.


All the representatives of political parties and civic organizations, as well as independent candidates, complained about the brevity of the campaign period, and about the advantages of the government-supported candidates. Many independents also complained about the unfair, arbitrary treatment they had received from the heads of regional and local election commissions, which, they said, often refused to register them for unjustified reasons. Once disqualified, there was often too little time to appeal.

The complaints ran the gamut from outright fraud to structural problems to impossible timing dilemmas. For instance, one candidate told Commission staff that friendly officials in a local election commission had confided that they were under orders to ensure the victory of ten candidates supported by the mayor of Almaty. Many candidates reported that local election commissions were autonomous and impervious to the influence or remonstrations of the CEC, which could only make recommendations. Nor could courts always overrule local election commissions which disqualified candidates, even when the court found the candidate's complaints justified. Others complained about the unavailability of necessary documents: candidates could start gathering signatures December 27, but they did not receive official signature forms until January 15, so they were delayed in beginning their campaigns.

During the campaign, the authorities closed for a while an independent television station that broadcast stories critical of Almaty's mayor and the elections. The station's owner himself was unsuccessful in his bid to register as a candidate.

One angry candidate nominated by LAD issued a press release complaining that Vechernii Almaty had deleted from her 100 lines important points about fighting the bureaucracy, making Russian a state language, creating a Slavic university, and the desirability of dual citizenship. A subsequent press release by this candidate protested a statement by another candidate's authorized representative that, when gathering signatures, she had not bothered to talk to Kazakh voters. LAD also wrote to the CEC chairman complaining that in Kokshetau, the chairman of a district election commission said that candidates advocating dual citizenship would not be registered, and in Petropavlovsk, local authorities had closed down the headquarters of LAD.

Finally, many candidates charged that the executive branch was completely in charge of the election, since all levels of soviets, from local to Supreme, had been dissolved. The general tenor of this complaint, and most others, was that the elections were carefully structured and timed to yield the desired outcome.

In sum, 218 candidates were disqualified during the registration process. Of them, 15 appealed to the courts and seven won their cases to be reinstated.


On voting day, Commission staff visited polling stations in and around Almaty. Concerned about turnout, the authorities tried to attract voters to the polls with music and by selling food, drinks and jewelry. Still, Commission staff and all other observers noted the relative absence of young people at the polling stations.

Polling stations were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters presented their passports, signed the rolls, and in Almaty, received four ballots: two for the parliament (one on the state list, the other on the territorial list), one for the regional council and another for the city council. They took their ballots into curtained booths, and then deposited the ballots into a box. As is common throughout the former USSR, family members tended to enter the booth together and people stood in small groups discussing how to vote.

Commission staff encountered no difficulties in entering polling stations but some observers did, especially members of a delegation from Kyrgyzstan. In general, some polling stations conscientiously administered the vote and count, but many did not. Based on what Commission staff saw, and on accounts from other monitors, the chairman of the polling station set the tone: some followed the rules, others appeared not to be familiar with them, and others seemed determined to flout them.

The most common violation was multiple voting, but Kyrgyz observers reported many other violations. These included polling station officials telling voters how to vote and discrepancies in totals when votes were counted. There were also cases when, during counting, more ballots turned up in the urns carried to apartments of the disabled than there were disabled voters on the lists.

One incident typified the March 7 balloting. A local observer in a polling station, though initially reluctant to report on violations, eventually relented and said she had seen many instances of multiple voting. Commission staff then asked when she would have the time to vote. «Oh», she said, waving her hand to allay any possible concern, «someone will vote for me».


The CSCE Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation, at a press conference held in Almaty on March 8, read a statement that commended the government of Kazakhstan for holding elections in which opposition groups had campaigned, and for inviting international observers. Nevertheless, the delegation concluded that the election had not met international standards and could not be considered free and fair. Among the 10 reasons cited were: the brevity of the campaign; the arbitrary disqualification of candidates during the registration process; the state list, which allowed the government to appoint about 20 percent of the parliament; rampant multiple voting; the advantages enjoyed by government candidates during the campaign; the many closed polling stations, especially on military bases, where observers were not permitted; and the difficulties faced by the media, which could not publish or broadcast because of denial of paper or airtime on television, and in some places suffered harassment.

The local press reported similar violations. Kazakhstanskaya Pravda on March 10 noted that «the violations are so varied that just listing them could create the impression of chaos». They included the most commonly cited problem, namely, multiple voting, but added others, such as polling station officials giving voters incorrect information about filling out the ballots, ballots being available only in Russian or Kazakh, not counting and canceling unused ballots, the surprise appearance in some precincts of ballot boxes crammed full of unregistered ballots, and the likely abuses during the voting before March 7 by students leaving for the holidays. Sovety Kazakhstana on March 10 also reported on the charges made by the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation, and television viewers in Kazakhstan could see broadcasts of Russian news programs detailing abuses and the assessment of the Parliamentary Assembly delegation.

After the election, angry candidates inspired by the publicity surrounding the statement sent the CEC appeals demanding recounts, an investigation of alleged abuses, and the annulment of the results in districts where violations had occurred. One appeal included affidavits from various monitors alleging various charges, most often that polling stations officials allowed voters to cast ballots for others.

At the press conference where the statement by the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly was read, the editor of a local newspaper asked whether these «mind-boggling revelations» to annul the elections. But Kazakhstan's government spokesmen denounced the allegations. They stoutly defended the conduct of the election and angrily claimed that the appraisal was based on very limited observation and reflected unrepresentative polling stations. Foreign Minister Suleymenov charged that «The international observers turned these elections into a tragedy». CEC Chairman Karatay Turisov, on the other hand, issued a detailed rejection of the observers' charges, while at the same time explaining why a Western-style election could not be held in Kazakhstan: «It is impossible to change the psychology of people in a two-month campaign after 70 years of communism».

Nazarbaev himself took a similar tack when angrily rejecting the charges in a television address on March 10. He declared the election democratic, since deputies were elected from all groups of the population. But he then qualified «democratic» by noting that the election mirrored democracy in Kazakhstan today: «we have not yet come up to European standards, we are on our way to reaching them». He also charged that only some members of the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation held the views reflected in their statement, while others felt much more positive about the democratic and fair conduct of the election.


The CEC on March 17 issued the final results: the election had been valid, i.e., there was over 50 percent turnout, in all 135 electoral districts, and in all regions where candidates ran on the state list. In all, 176 deputies were elected; not counting the 42 on the state list, 75 were nominated by public associations, and 59 were self-nominated.

As expected, SNEK came away the big winner, with 33 seats; the Federation of Trade Unions was next, with 11, followed by the People's Congress (9), and the Socialist Party (8). The Peasant Union and LAD won 4 apiece, and various other organizations got one seat. Forty deputies in the previous Supreme Soviet will be in the new parliament.

Divided by nationality, 105 deputies were Kazakhs, while 49 were Russians. There were also 10 Ukrainians, three Germans, three Jews, and one Uzbek, Tatar, Ingush, Korean, Pole and Uigur apiece. Proportionally, 28 percent of deputies are Russian, whereas Russians constitute about 37 percent of the population. Kazakhs, with some 43 percent of the population, have 60 percent of the seats.