Kazakhstan vote tests stability after oil town unrest

January 15, 2012 07:23


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ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan - Kazakhstan began voting on Sunday in an election designed to put a second party in parliament and ease growing discontent after deadly riots shook the image of stability prized by the veteran leader of Central Asia's largest economy and oil producer.

No one doubts Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party will win by a landslide. The second-placed party will also be guaranteed a presence in the 107-seat chamber, whether or not it clears the 7 percent entry threshold.

But Nazarbayev's most critical opponents have been barred from standing, and the party that is expected to come second is a pro-business group led by a former ruling party member.

Nazarbayev, 71, in power since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, remains overwhelmingly popular throughout most of his mainly Muslim country of 16.7 million people. Its relative wealth has ensured Kazakhstan was long spared the sort of unrest seen in other former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

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