Ahead of Kazakhstan’s presidential elections on 9 June, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights mission in the country said the ongoing campaign is being properly regulated and limited to advertisements that include posters and billboards.
All of the candidates are being given permission to hold public meetings or events once they have permission from the local authorities, the application for which must be filed 10 days before the planned event takes place.
Some members of the ODIHR, which is part of the OSCE, have reported that access to some online publications and social networks is often interrupted or blocked and other expressed concerns that the broadcast and print media are not sufficiently impartial.
Under the Kazakh constitution, all candidates are guaranteed equal access to the media. The press is also required to carry out objective election campaign coverage and must refrain from engaging in insults or slandering any of the potential candidates.
ODIHR Executive Summary
According to the 8-21 May report of the ODIHR Election Observation Mission on Kazakhstan’s Early Presidential Election, the president is directly elected for a five-year term by an absolute majority from a single nationwide constituency. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes cast, a second round between the two candidates with the highest number of votes is held within two months on a date set by the CEC. In the second round, the candidate who receives the higher number of votes is elected. Kazakhstan is a party to major international and regional instruments related to the holding of democratic elections. The legal framework for presidential elections includes the Constitution and the Constitutional Law on Elections (Election Law). The CEC issues regulations to address legislative gaps.
The ODIHR reported noted that besides the redistribution of political powers, the 2017 constitutional amendments abolished self nomination of candidates, introduced additional requirement of higher education for presidential candidates, and allowed for further conditions on candidacy to be imposed by law. This led to the introduction of new candidate eligibility criteria to the Election Law in 2017, as well as changes in voter registration processes and election administration structure. However, many previous ODIHR priority recommendations remain unaddressed, including those related to fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as to candidate rights and registration, and media environment. A number of ODIHR EOM interlocutors raised concerns about the enforcement of the overall legal framework, stating that recent changes further restrict the right to stand in the presidential election. They also stated that the current legal framework and its implementation can impede free campaigning, noting previously voiced concerns over limitations to fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
The election administration is permanent and three-tiered, comprising of the CEC, 232 Territorial Election Commissions (TECs), and 9,970 Precinct Election Commissions (PECs). Three of seven members of the CEC and some 67% of all lower-level commissioners are women.
The CEC and TECs are formed for five years and consist of seven members. Following the 2018 amendments to the Election Law, PECs membership can vary between 5 and 11 depending of the number of voters they serve and should be uneven.
Additionally, the law now allows for less than half members of the TECs and PECs to be employees of the same institution. The CEC chairperson and two members are appointed by the president, and the Senate and Majilis each appoint two members. Members of lower level commissions are selected by local councils (Maslikhats), based on nominations from registered political parties, one per election commission. In case of insufficient proposals, applications from non-profit and public associations are considered and, if still insufficient, from superior election commissions. Maslikhats may accept or reject individual nominations by all nominating bodies through a vote. Political parties and associations may nominate individuals that are not members of their organisation. The new composition of lower-level commissions was appointed in January 2019.
According to the CEC data, of the seven registered parties, five formally have equitable representation. While the CEC informed the ODIHR EOM commissions are established in a balanced and inclusive manner, some ODIHR EOM interlocutors raised concerns that mechanisms for appointment of election commissions may undermine their independence.
The CEC has been regularly holding sessions, attended by observers, media, and party representatives. Most commissions, including the CEC, are open and forthcoming with information for the ODIHR EOM. All CEC resolutions are published on its website in a timely manner. To date, the resolutions are adopted unanimously with little discussion. The CEC conducts preparatory meetings on pertinent issues, which are not open to the public.
A nationwide training programme for new commission members on election day procedures began on 27 April and is ongoing. The CEC maintains a comprehensive website and has produced several different voter education videos, which are regularly aired on various media outlets. While the CEC holds press briefings after each session, it has so far provided little information about the election process to the media if their questions are not pertaining to specific topics of the agenda.
The Election Law provides for both citizen and international observers. Citizen observers may be nominated by public associations and non-profit organizations. There is no formal accreditation procedure with the election administration.
Candidates and registered political parties are each entitled to one proxy per polling station. Several civil society organizations informed the ODIHR EOM that they are planning to deploy observers in regions of the country. International observers are accredited by the CEC. Thus far, the CEC accredited observers from the ODIHR, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and its Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The ODIHR EOM commenced its work in Nur-Sultan on 8 May. The Head of Mission has met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the CEC chairperson, candidates and representatives of political parties, and the resident international community.
The ODIHR EOM has also established contacts with representatives of the media, civil society organisations, judicial and law enforcement bodies, and other electoral stakeholders. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has announced that it will deploy an observer delegation for election day observation.