[JURIST] The Kazakhstan Parliament [official website] on Thursday approved legislation designed to ensure that there is representation from at least two political parties [Gazeta report] in the lawmaking body. The election law reform measure is seen as a way to enhance democracy in Kazakhstan before it takes over as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website], Europe's main security and human rights body, in 2010. The new law [AP report] will allow the party that wins the second most votes to obtain seven seats in parliament, whether or not they meet the 7 percent threshold currently required to hold a seat. Other reforms that were passed include lowering the number of members required to form political parties to 40,000, down from 50,000, while requiring the signatures of at least 600 individuals from each province. Critics contend that elections reform in Kazakhstan has not met the assurances [RFE report] the country gave in order to overcome opposition to its taking over as chair of the OSCE.
In December, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; JURIST report] detailing how Kazakhstan has fallen short on its pledges to reform election laws before it takes over as head of OSCE. The report focused on two fundamental areas of ensuring an open and free system of elections - the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and the failure of Kazakhstan to live up to its promises of reform in those areas. Some of the criticism of Kazakhstan's electoral practices has stemmed from the December 2005 election in which President Nursultan Nazarbaev [official website; BBC profile], in office since 1991, was re-elected with 91 percent of the vote. International observers raised concerns of fraud [JURIST report] after that poll, which opposition parties unsuccessfully challenged [JURIST report].