Kazakhstan voters go to the polls


Voters go to the polls today in the oil-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan in elections that are expected to slightly broaden democratic representation in parliament's rubber-stamp lower house.

All seats in the former Soviet nation's parliament are currently occupied by President Nursultan Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party.

A 2009 election law gives at least two seats to the party with the second-highest number of votes even if it does not receive the 7% share that is the threshold for proportional allotment of seats.

Opposition parties that were most likely to pose a robust challenge to Nur Otan have been either disqualified from competing or rendered largely powerless.

The pro-business Ak Zhol party, which avoids confrontation with the government, is seen as the most likely runner-up.

Prosperity and stability in Kazakhstan - mainly driven by its vast reserves of oil, gas and minerals - account for much of the support for Nur Otan and the president.

However, the elections are taking place in the shadow of an unusual outburst of discontent and violence.

In December, a long-term protest in the town of Zhanaozen by oil workers who had been fired after striking for better pay degenerated into clashes with police who opened fire.

At least 16 people were killed, and the bloodshed set off a riot in another town where police killed one person.