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Elections in Kazakhstan: Why CEC Restricted Rights of Independent Observers?

On the threshold of the parliamentary and local elections in Kazakhstan, the Central Election Commission restricted the work of independent observers and community-based organisations that observe elections.

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CABAR.asia together with the executive director of «Erkindik Kanaty» Public Foundation, Yelena Shvetsova, and the director of the Centre for Current Studies «Alternativa», Andrei Chebotarev, reviews the role of observers in the election process, and how the new decree of the CEC will affect their work.

Who are independent observers and what do they do?

An observer carries the idea of protection of democracy and pluralism at elections, their legitimacy and transparency, by observing the process of elections. Once a person with authorities knows he/she is under close surveillance, he/she starts behaving differently: reasonably, neutrally, trying not to violate the law.

Observers at polling stations help to prevent violations and electoral fraud at polling stations. They act under the law and control the observance of voting procedures and vote counting. Observers report inconsistencies and make photos and videos of the same to prove violations.

The body of observers is rather developed and large-scale not only at the national level, but also internationally as not only ordinary active citizens but also members of international organisations and representatives of foreign states such as Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe represented by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, OSCE) take part in observation.

Who can become an independent observer?

Every adult citizen of Kazakhstan. Observers can attend the elections both in the territory of the country and in embassies of Kazakhstan abroad.

What is the difference between dependent and independent observers?

Dependent observers are interested in the voting results, namely, in the victory of a certain candidate. Often, they are observers from parties or agents of candidates.

Independent observers are the people who do not care about the winner. Their main purpose is to make elections transparent and legitimate, prove to the citizens that the elected candidate who came to power was really elected by the people.

Dependent observers usually leave the polling station at 8 pm sharp, after its closure. Independent observers take part in vote counting while observing it and wait for the vote counting protocol.

How to become an independent observer?

In fact, it is simple. One does not have to have education or diplomas of foreign schools. The observer should be an adult citizen of Kazakhstan and carry out the following steps:

  1. Select on behalf of which party you want to observe: whether you want to be an independent observer or act on behalf of a candidate or political party? If you have certain political views and support any candidate, you should become an observer on behalf of this candidate, party. You should not be an independent observer. Thus, you will be more useful and won’t act against your views.
  2. Find an organisation you trust and register as its observer.
  3. Take an instructional training and get an observer’s certificate. Thus, an online course available in two languages can be such a training.
  4. Read the constitutional law on elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan thoroughly.
  5. Choose the polling station or get a number and address from a coordinator. Come to the polling station on the voting day and carry out the observation.

Just recently, the procedure of registration and work of independent observers was like this. But on December 4, 2020, the CEC of Kazakhstan issued a decree that seriously restricted the work of independent observers and community-based organisations that observe the elections. 

What rights of independent observers were restricted by CEC before the elections?

Only those community-based organisations that have observation of voting among their statutory goals can send their observers.

To register an observer on behalf of a community-based organisation at a polling station, one needs not only an identity document and observer’s certificate, but also an extract of the Charter as well as a document certifying the powers of the head of a community-based organisation.

Thus, the CEC easily excluded the absolute majority of community-based organisations who carried out independent observation.

As to the observers, now: 

  • They may not make photos, audio and video records. This clause allegedly violates the secrecy of vote and the privacy right.
  • They may make photos, audio and video records and carry out the observation so as to maintain confidentiality of personal data, including the list of voters, completed ballot papers.
  • Photos, audio and video records may be made only after the secrecy of vote and personal data of voters is ensured. The images of citizens may be used only with their consent.
  • The chair of the precinct election commission must determine the area of observation, where photos, audio and video records may be made from.
  • Online video broadcasting from polling stations is also prohibited.
Is it legal? How the elections will be monitored now?

According to experts, this decree is the sign of unpreparedness of the CEC for fair and transparent parliamentary election in 2021. Especially taking into account the fact that now a violator must give his/her consent to post a photo or video of him/her on social media. This change might be based on a great number of materials with violations posted last year on the internet.  

Can the CEC decree be appealed?

On December 10, «Erkindik Kanaty» public foundation filed an action to the General Prosecutor’s Office and to the Supreme Court asking to find the CEC decree illegal. One of the causes for the action was that the CEC in its decree nullified article 20-1 paragraph 2 subparagraph 9 of the law «On elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan», which reads that observers may make photos, audio and video records without interrupting the course of voting and vote counting.

Moreover, paragraph 1 article 12 of the law «On laws and regulations» reads, «In case of any discrepancies in laws and regulations of various levels, the laws and regulations of higher level shall prevail.»

Thus, the CEC may not, on its initiative, cancel the rights of observers set forth in the constitutional law by referring to the laws and regulations that are inferior in terms of the hierarchy of laws and regulations (article 10 of the law of Kazakhstan «On laws and regulations»).

Why did the CEC introduce these restrictions before these elections?

Independent observers were quite active during the 2019 presidential election and proved at many polling stations that candidate Amirzhan Kosanov was the winner. It seems that the CEC does not want to experience this situation and the authorities will rely on loyal observers and monitors from the CIS.

However, experts think this measure is useless because one of the peculiarities of the parliamentary election this year is the non-participation of the opposition. The only party – National Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (OSDP) – has decided to boycott the election.

When parties loyal to the authorities take part in the election, there are no serious grounds for violations of the election law, including ballot stuffing, carousel voting and fraud.

What to expect from this election?

Taking into account the political distribution of parties, there are no special forecasts available. The most interesting thing is what party will take the second place. And also if it is possible for a fourth party to pass to the parliament Mazhilis as Kazakhstan has only three parties in the parliament for the second election campaign in a row.

Moreover, elections to maslikhats will be held under party lists, which gives a chance to be represented both at the national and regional level almost to all.

There’s no political intrigue as such, but everything will depend on how the society, especially protesters, will react.

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