Sergei Grits  /  AP
Members of Kazakh election commission count votes Sunday after polls close in the presidential election in Astana, Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led the country for 16 years, is widely expected to gain another seven-year term.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/4/2005 10:57:11 PM ET 2005-12-05T03:57:11

President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled oil-rich Kazakhstan since Soviet times, was re-elected Sunday by an overwhelming majority, according to four exit polls released hours after voting ended.

Nazarbayev won 83.2 percent of the vote, an exit poll by Gallup and the U.S. International Republican Institute showed on Monday.

The poll gave the main opposition challenger Zharmakhan Tuyakbai 9.9 percent in Sunday’s ballot, International Republican Institute spokeswoman Lisa Gates said by email.

The survey involved voters across Kazakhstan and had a margin of error of one percent.

The exit tallies announced early Monday are likely to undermine any opposition opportunity to claim a miscount in Sunday’s presidential balloting in Central Asia’s most prosperous nation. But complaints are likely that the comparatively authoritarian government did not allow a genuinely free vote.

Election officials planned to announce preliminary results Monday.

The assessment of international election observers likely will play a key role in how the opposition responds to the elections. A prominent mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was due to issue its initial assessment of the vote later Monday, as was a group of observers from the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States.

Authoritarian streak
Nazarbayev, who has ruled for 16 years, often shows an authoritarian streak, and opposition candidates claim their campaigns have been hindered by the theft of campaign materials, seizure of newspapers backing them and denial of attractive sites to hold rallies.

Nazarbayev, whose two previous election victories were widely criticized as undemocratic, said, “This year’s elections are being held in unprecedented democratic conditions.”

Seventy-five percent of the electorate, about 6.7 million people, voted, according to the Central Elections Commission.

Bolat Abilov, campaign chief for Tuyakbai, said late Sunday that Tuyakbai observers saw many violations, including people being excluded from voter lists and some voters being ordered to cast ballots for Nazarbayev.

Kazakh officials have alleged that the opposition plans postelection disturbances similar to protests in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past two years that helped bring opposition figures to power.

Tuyakbai, who voted in Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, said that if there is evidence of election fraud, he and his supporters “will use all legal means to resist.”

Kazakhstan, four times the size of Texas and the world’s ninth-largest country by area, has vast oil and gas reserves that are a potential alternative to Middle East petroleum, and its stability matters greatly to the United States and Western Europe. The country borders both Russia and China.

Troops in Iraq
Under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has maneuvered between Washington, Moscow and Beijing. With Russia and China, it is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that has called for U.S. bases in the region to be closed. At the same time, a small Kazakh contingent is part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Nazarbayev, who has led the nation of 15 million since 1989 when it was still part of the Soviet Union, is widely admired for his economic reforms, in contrast to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, also led by Soviet-era presidents.

Kazakhstan’s economy has grown by some 75 percent over the past seven years, and per capita gross national income is about $2,250, about five times higher than neighboring Uzbekistan’s.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

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