Kazakhs Change Election Law After Facing Western Pressure

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Kazakh lawmakers approved legislation Thursday to guarantee that at least two political parties are represented in parliament, a move designed to improve the country's tarnished democratic credentials.

Under the new rules, the party that wins the second-largest number of votes will still be allocated seats even if it fails to pass the 7 percent threshold normally needed to get seats.

Several opposition parties say the changes do not go far enough to instill fully functional democratic processes and warned that they would boycott the next parliamentary elections if the change is approved.

They have called for the threshold for entry into parliament to be lowered to no more than 3 percent and that representatives from all parties participating should have members on the electoral commission.

The amendments require presidential approval, which is expected.

Deputies also approved separate measures to streamline the registration of political parties. The number of enlisted members required to register parties will be lowered by one-fifth to 40,000, including a minimum of 600 signatories from each province in the country.

Kazakhstan has come under pressure to step up efforts to improve political freedoms in advance of its chairmanship of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe next year. As part of its bid for the chairmanship, Kazakhstan promised to reform its election laws. Critics say the approved amendments do not reflect OSCE standards. Critics accuse President Nursultan Nazarbayev of stamping out all political opposition. International observers denounced elections in 2007 that resulted in the pro-presidential Nur Otan party taking all the seats in parliament's lower chamber.