19 September 2004
I was seconded by the U.S. Department of State to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as an election observer for the 2004 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. These elections were the first since the 1999 elections which were deemed by the OSCE not to meet international standards and OSCE commitments. As in all Central Asian countries, the executive branch wields considerable authority. President Nazarbayev has held executive office pre-dating the collapse of the Soviet Union. With financial and state resources, his party, OTAN, was heavily favored to win. In addition, the other pro-government party, ASAR, was also expected to do quite well (the leader of ASAR is Nazarbayev's daughter Daringa).
These elections marked the introduction of electronic voting. One can certainly question the rationale of introducing electronic voting in a country such as Kazakhstan. Given the problems with the 1999 elections, the addition of electronic voting complicated the process. There were a total of 77 parliamentary seats contested. Of these, 67 seats are allocated in single member districts using a majoritarian formula and 10 seats are allocated in a nation-wide PR list.
I was deployed to the city of Shymkent
(third largest in the country) and observed elections in the city's central
district. Because this is a urban area, most of my polling stations utilized
electronic voting. It was unclear up to the day of election whether voting
would be electronic only, paper only or a combination of the two (parallel
voting). In the end, the CEC decided to allow parallel voting whereby voters
could choose between the two types of ballots. My partner, Lusine Badalyan
(from the Armenian CEC), and I found that voters overwhelmingly chose paper
ballots. Generally speaking, we found that the introduction of electronic
voting early in the day caused chaos in the polling stations and active
interference on the part of the PECs.
Here are some photos that I took of Almaty from my hotel room. As you will see, the former capital (and really de facto capital) is surrounded by beautiful mountains. The city is quiet lovely, and the Kazaks are very friendly people. Moreover because of all the oil capital flowing in, the city is very prosperous by post-Soviet standards.
Before the election, we attended a rally of the Ak Zkol opposition party. On election day, one of the groups that we consistently encountered was an Afghanistan veterans party/organization. Here is a photo of me with one of the members in front of a plague honoring those that fought in Afghanistan.
Here is a photo of the team (my partner, Lusine, and our interpreter Pasha) in front of a painting of President Nazarbayev. Pasha is a Shymkent local and a great guy. Here is also a photo of Lusine with a local proxy observer.
Finally, here are some photos taken in the polling stations. The first photo (left, first row) shows me in front of an information sheet that describes the process of electronic voting. There was a hand-held device that was used in which voters selected their language, candidate and party and could if requested generate a PIN code. The third photo shows a PEC in action. The ladies would scan a bar code on the voter Kazak ID into a computer for verification. The fourth photo shows me with an electronic counter in the background. The counter registered the total number of voters as well as the number that had voted. The final photo was taken before the close at our PEC. The two smaller ballot boxes were mobile boxes that were taken to voters in the hospital or at home.
As I flew back from Amsterdam, the crew invited me inside to take a look at the instrumentation of a DC 10. Please note, I never was at the controls!!!