A national "day of silence” kicked off at midnight on Saturday in Kazakhstan prior to parliamentary elections on January 15, which are expected to end the ruling party's complete control of the legislature.
The elections had been originally scheduled for August 2012, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev ruled last November to dissolve the legislature and hold snap polls. The decision came following a request from a group of 53 lawmakers and is designed to bring at least one more party besides Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan into parliament, the Mazhilis.
In line with the 2008 election law, the party that will show the second-best result in the polls will make it into parliament, even if it does not pass the 7-percent threshold.
In the previous parliament, Nur Otan held 98 seats out of 107, with the rest occupied by independent lawmakers. None of the six opposition parties managed to make it into parliament in the previous elections in August 2007.
A survey by the country’s Institute for Democracy shows some 80 percent of Kazakhstan’s 9.2 million eligible voters are going to support Nur Otan. Among the rest six parties, the Communists and the pro-business Ak Zhol party are believed to have the best chance to enter parliament.
Polling stations will be open on Sunday between 7 am and 8 pm across the country, except four western regions where they will remain open until 9 pm.
More than 1,000 international observers will monitor the polls, which will be covered by more than 120 foreign journalists. Security has been strengthened across the country ahead of the vote.
Earlier this week, Nazarbayev vetoed the decision by the country’s Constitutional Council not to hold parliamentary elections in the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, which saw violent riots last month that left 16 people dead.
The Constitutional Council ordered to exclude Zhanaozen from voting in the polls last week, a few days after Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency in the town to January 31.
Accused by critics of authoritarianism, Nazarbayev, 71, has ruled the gas-rich Central Asian state since the collapse of the Soviet Union.