Reforms Delayed

Article excerpt

Byline: James Morrison, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

REFORMS DELAYED

Halfway through the year, Kazakhstan has failed to adopt the political reforms it promised in order to get Western support for its goal of chairing an international human rights forum, members of the U.S. Congress complained Tuesday on a visit to the energy-rich Central Asian nation.

"Those commitments dealt with the rights of political parties, election reform, protection of religious entities and a free media," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, co-chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Maryland Democrat added, "Progress was to be made in 2008. ... Much more needs to be made"

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, the other co-chairman, said the delegation reminded Kazakh leaders of the promises they made last year when they won support from the United States and other Western countries to lead the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"We have continuously urged, and will continue to urge, the government of Kazakhstan to reform its methodologies with reference to rights and opportunities for the opposition in this country," Mr. Hastings, Florida Democrat, told reporters at a press conference in the country's capital, Astana.

Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled the country since independence from the Soviet Union in 1989, first as a communist leader and lately as president. He was last elected in 2005 with 91 percent of the vote. His political party won every seat in the lower house of the Kazakh parliament in last year's elections.

Critics have noted the irony of Kazakhstan chairing the OSCE when the organization has never certified a Kazakh election as free and fair. They believe Mr. Nazarbayev is leveraging Kazakhstan's vast energy resources to win credibility from the West.

Mr. Hastings said he recognized Kazakhstan's contribution to the world oil market. …