There will be no polling stations opening in Kazakhstan tomorrow when half the members of the Senate are selected. The general public does not have a say in who represents them in the upper house of parliament.
Of the 39 Senate seats, seven are awarded by President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Each of Kazakhstan's 14 regions has two deputies. The two largest cities -- Almaty and the capital Astana -- also have two each. It falls to regional and local officials to choose who will fill those 32 seats.
Senate elections rotate. Every three years, half the seats are up for new candidates, meaning this year only 16 deputies will be selected. Forty-one candidates were registered to participate in the selection process. Of them, 21 of them are from Otan [the ruling party].
Otan already has a majority in the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, and seems sure to have a majority in the upper house. Otan's dominance may play a key role in determining if Kazakhstan will next hold presidential elections in December 2006, as currently scheduled, or schedule an early vote in January 2006, when Nazarbaev's term expires.
Some in Otan have already called for early presidential elections. Perhaps for this reason, the Senate selection has piqued the interest of politics-watchers outside Kazakhstan. For the first time, according to Lazzat Suleimen, a member of the Kazakh Central Election Commission, international observers will be on hand to watch the selection process.
So international observers will be watching -- but, by contrast, there will be no Kazakh monitors. Dos Koshim is a longtime opposition activist and the head of the Independent Observers Network of Kazakhstan. He explained why his group is not interested in monitoring the Senate process.
"For five years we have stayed away from observing Senate elections," Koshim said. "The reason is because this chamber does not represent the people. That's why we refused."
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