Kazakh leader claims victory

Kazakhstan's veteran President Nursultan Nazarbayev has celebrated his party's crushing victory in parliamentary elections.

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But the opposition decried "maximum fraud" on voting day.

Preliminary election results showed Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party likely to secure all 98 seats that were at stake in Saturday's elections, depriving the opposition of what had previously been its sole seat in the legislature.

Fraud allegations

The leading opposition Social Democratic party rejected the result as fraudulent, saying it had won at least 25 percent of the vote, while preliminary official results gave it less than five percent.

"It is impossible in any way to recognise a result marked by maximum fraud on the day of the polls," party chief Zharmakhan Tuyakbai said.

The Social Democrats plan to file official complaints for every instance of fraud reported by election observers, though they are not currently demanding new elections, Mr Tuyakbai said.

No opposition party garnered more than seven percent of the vote, the minimum threshold to win seats.

"Honest and fair elections took place in which all political parties of the country participated," Mr Nazarbayev said. "Unfortunately other parties couldn't pass the seven percent barrier, but we shouldn't make a tragedy of that."

Nazarbayev was speaking at a meeting of the Assembly of Kazakh Peoples, a body representing the Central Asian state's various ethnic groups.

The assembly met to fill a further nine seats in parliament that are reserved for representatives of ethnic minorities.

International scrutiny

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the leading international election monitoring body, said Saturday's vote did not meet its standards.

No election in Kazakhstan, where Nazarbayev has ruled since the Soviet era, has been declared free and fair by the OSCE.

But Nazarbayev said there had been a fair fight and that Kazakhs had chosen the party best able to maintain "political stability and calm."

'Greater pluralism'

The former Soviet apparatchik has long been seen as wanting to improve Kazakhstan's image abroad. He is lobbying hard for the country to be given the yearly chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009.

Saturday's election followed constitutional reforms that the authorities promised would allow for greater pluralism.

The number of seats in parliament was raised from 77 to 107, but critics said the seven-percent threshold for gaining seats was unfairly tough on the country's fledgling opposition.

"It's back to the Soviet Union with a one-party system just like the

Communist Party," said Amirzhan Kosanov, another Social Democratic Party leader.