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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

OSCE Will Scale Back Kazakh Vote Monitoring

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has reiterated its displeasure with preparations for Kazakhstan's presidential election, and said it would not observe the Jan. 10 poll.

"We have not sent an observation mission," Judy Thompson, coordinator of the OSCE's election assessment mission, said last week. "We are not here to assess the election as an observer and to put our stamp of approval or disapproval on it."

The OSCE repeated its criticism of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's decision with parliament to bring the poll forward by over a year. He announced the decision Oct. 8, three months ahead of the new election date.

"The mission remains convinced that the campaign period is too short considering the constitutional changes that led to an early election," the OSCE said.

The organization also said a decision to ban two candidates from taking part in the poll for minor administrative offenses, including former prime minister and leading opposition figure Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was unjustified.

The Central Election Commission has countered that its decision to bar the candidates was correct and in accordance with Kazakh law.

Thompson said the assessment mission would look at and report on the overall election process and how it meets commitments made by OSCE member states, including Kazakhstan. A low-key presence during the vote should not be mistaken for an observation mission, she said. OSCE staffing would total just 15 people, while a full observation mission would have up to 300 people in a country the size of Kazakhstan, she said.

The United States has also expressed anxiety over the election in the resource-rich former Soviet republic and what it means for the process of democracy in the region as a whole.

U.S. oil majors are among the biggest foreign investors in Kazakhstan's huge hydrocarbon reserves, but there is no sign yet that the multinationals are paying much attention to election criticism.

Lucio Noto, chairman of Mobil Corp., met Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, last week and voiced his support for the 58-year-old former metal worker, who appears to be heading for a landslide victory against three relatively weak candidates.

"If I were allowed to take part in the election, I know who I would vote for," Noto told reporters after the meeting, praising Nazarbayev's market reforms and attitude toward foreign investors.

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov added political weight to Nazarbayev's candidacy last Wednesday. "I can say for sure that there is big support from Russia for the incumbent president of Kazakhstan," he said after meeting Nazarbayev and Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev.

Moscow is a key political partner for Kazakhstan and accounts for around 40 percent of merchandise trade.

Nazarbayev - whose critics say he will not allow opposition candidates to mount full-fledged campaigns - will face Communist leader Serkbolsyn Abdildin; Engels Gabbasov, a teacher, writer and lawmaker; and Sany Kasymov, head of the customs committee, in next month's election.