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Kazakhstan leader 'ready to rule' ahead of poll

Kazakhstan readies for another decade for veteran leader Nazarbayev ahead of presidential elections

AFP , Friday 1 Apr 2011
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana, in this Monday, 5 December 2005 file photo. (AP)
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Kazakhstan on Friday entered the last day of the presidential election campaign with officials brushing aside revolutions in other Muslim nations and promising another decade in power for the veteran leader.

Streets peppered with "We are voting for the leader" posters leave little doubt that President Nursultan Nazarbayev -- officially dubbed "leader of the nation" -- will bring home another impressive haul of votes.

Nazarbayev's victory is so assured in Sunday's ballot that the government is already releasing his post-election travel plans while aides speak of a 90-plus percent mandate befitting the country's first and only president.

"He makes no secret of his grand political ambitions for the coming decade," Nazarbayev's top political advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev told Khabar state television on Thursday evening.

Yertysbayev has previously said the "leader" label warranted Nazarbayev more votes than the 91 percent he picked up in the last elections in 2005 and compared the president -- in power since 1989 -- to boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

"Look at Ali," the aide said. "He reigned for 15 years but still took every fight seriously."

The energy-rich nation prides itself on being an island of Central Asian stability that saw seven percent growth last year on the back of business-friendly tax policies that make Western investors feel at home.

But some analysts said the fact that Nazarbayev has never been elected in a poll deemed fair by observers leaves Western businessmen guessing about how deeply his liberal take on economics runs within the state.

That question is particularly pressing because the 70-year-old leader has failed to line up a successor amid signs of an inner-circle struggle about what to do next.

State television reporters with greater access to Nazarbayev said in private that some aides were pushing the president to stay in power as long as physically possible while others were quietly promoting their own favourites.

But these figures are almost complete unknowns to both the local public and Western states and businesses.

Powerful Nazarbayev opponents with deep pockets meanwhile have mostly fled the country and a new law requiring a 15-year residency period for candidates rules them out of the succession picture.

One of the country's most prominent opposition leaders is a female former Senate member who led a small group of protesters Friday inside the Central Election Commission to demand a change in election law.

The group is not only outraged that the three rivals to Nazarbayev have all previously supported his policies but also that there is no "against all" option to check on the ballot.

"We want to use the attention Kazakhstan is finally getting to tell the world to stop applying double standards to Kazakhstan simply because of its resource wealth," Zauresh Battalova said in an interview.

"The world is focusing on human rights in Egypt but not here," the diminutive 49-year-old added.

Her group of several dozen mostly elderly protesters eventually received a brief meeting with the country's top election official during which he solemnly urged them to vote.

"The 'against all' box was repealed on the initiative of the OSCE," the committee's Kuandyk Turgankulov said.

Some 400 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are monitoring an election campaign that one member of the team said had been uneventful so far.

"I have been here for two days and this is the first protest I have witnessed," OSCE mission member Mikhail Kokorev told AFP.

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