Kazakhstan opposition to boycott presidential polls

AFP , Saturday 12 Feb 2011

Kazakhstan's main opposition party will boycott upcoming presidential polls accusing the president of breaching the constitution

Kazakhstan's main opposition party Azat said Saturday it would boycott presidential polls to be held in April, which President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to win comfortably.

The Central Asian republic's Azat (Freedom) Social Democratic Party said it would boycott the polls because the president had breached the constitution by calling snap elections.

"We announce our intention not to take part in the early presidential elections," the party said in a statement sent to AFP. "We demand that the elections be held within the time period set by the constitution.'

Earlier Saturday, the party had unanimously voted for co-chairman Bulat Abilov to stand as its presidential candidate.

The Kazakh parliament is made up entirely of Nazarbayev supporters and critics have complained that opposition activists are silenced by what is seen as an increasingly authoritarian regime.

Few doubt that the president will secure an overwhelming victory in the polls and analysts say the opposition, which was caught off guard by the announcement, would simply not have enough time to prepare for the vote.

The long-serving leader on February 4 issued a decree to hold early polls on April 3, bringing elections forward from 2012. Election campaigning is to start on March 3 and end on April 1.

The surprise call to the polls came after the president unexpectedly rejected a proposal to hold a referendum on extending his term to 2020, scrapping two elections.

The rubber-stamp parliament backed the idea last month, even though it fell foul of the country's constitution and was slammed by the United States as a "setback for democracy."

A petition calling for the referendum gathered more than four million signatures, representing more than half the electorate.

A new five-year term at the helm of the Central Asian former Soviet republic would extend the 70-year-old leader's rule to a third decade.

Along with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who rose to power at the same time, Nazarbayev is the longest-serving leader in the former Soviet states.

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