Elections in Kazakhstan; Building Democracy in a Key Region

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 20, 2004 | Go to article overview

Elections in Kazakhstan; Building Democracy in a Key Region


Byline: Kanat Saudabayev, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The world watches as the United States enters the final stages of its presidential campaign, and in Kazakhstan, the largest country in a strategically important region of Central Asia, another exercise in democracy will happen a few weeks before the American election. Taking the fullest advantage of their newfound freedoms, our citizens will pick among candidates from a dozen political parties as the country holds its national parliamentary election in September.

Our election will not only show how far we have progressed in shedding the totalitarian past, but hopefully will confirm that Kazakhstan is equal among the world's democracies.

Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has been working hard to build its democracy. Yet, democracy in Kazakhstan, a secular but predominantly Muslim nation, is also in U.S. national interest. We are a strategic partner of the United States, an ally in the war on terrorism and the rebuilding of Iraq. We have the most dynamic economy in Central Asia and will be one of the major energy suppliers for the world in the near future.

"Future successes of a democratic and free Republic of Kazakhstan directly benefit the United States, as it will help ensure stability and prosperity of Central Asia, a region extremely important in our fight against international terrorism," Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican, recently said.

The Sept. 19 election is then a critical test for Kazakhstan. We understand that holding an open and fair election will demonstrate to the world that the people of Kazakhstan share universal values of freedom and human rights, and prove Kazakhstan is worthy of membership in the club of the world's developed democracies.

We also expect objective assessment of our election by the international community, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United States. We welcome OSCE's recent decision to send observers for our election.

There has been much talk in recent years about stagnation in democratization in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Those worries could not be further from reality in Kazakhstan. Democracy is a fact of life in Kazakhstan after years when it was as rare as snow in the summer.

Our upcoming election will be the first held under a newly liberalized election law that introduced unprecedented reforms and helps to guarantee honest and open elections.

The election campaign is showing tough competition among the 12 political parties. …

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