Astana, Jan 15 (IANS/RIA Novosti) About 9,000 polling stations opened in Kazakhstan Sunday for parliamentary elections that are expected to end the ruling party’s monopolistic control of the legislature.
After securing an 88 percent victory during the 2007 election, 71-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party held 98 seats out of 107, with the rest occupied by independent lawmakers.
The elections had been originally scheduled for August 2012, but Nazarbayev last November dissolved the legislature and and called snap polls.
The decision came following a request from a group of 53 lawmakers and was designed to bring at least one more party besides Nur Otan into the lower house, the Mazhilis.
Under the 2009 election law, the party coming second will get at least two seats in the legislature even if it garners less than seven percent of the vote required for proportional allotment of seats.
Seven parties will compete in the elections, with the pro-business Ak Zhol and the Communists seen as the most likely runners-up.
A survey by the country’s Institute for Democracy showed some 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s 9.2 million eligible voters were going to support Nur Otan.
More than 1,000 international observers will monitor the polls, which will be covered by over 120 foreign journalists. Security has been strengthened across the country for the vote.
Earlier, Nazarbayev vetoed the decision by the country’s Constitutional Council not to hold elections in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, which saw violent riots last month that left 16 people dead.
The council excluded Zhanaozen after Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency in the town till Jan 31.
Accused by critics of authoritarianism, Nazarbayev has ruled the gas-rich state since the collapse of the Soviet Union.