Statement by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Observer Mission on monitoring the preparations for and holding of elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Statement by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Observer Mission on monitoring the preparations for and holding of elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan

On 7-10 January 2021, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's Mission (hereinafter referred to as the Mission), acting at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Foreign Ministry) successfully conducted the 55th mission to monitor the preparations for and holding of the elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Mission was headed by Deputy SCO Secretary-General Zhang Haizhou.

The Mission included 15 accredited observers representing legislative, executive and election agencies of the SCO member states, as well as SCO diplomats and officials from the SCO Secretariat.

The Mission regards the invitation of international observers as an indication of the Republic of Kazakhstan's desire to ensure that the elections are open, transparent and democratic to the maximum degree.

2. The Mission's activities

In performing its functions, the Mission was guided by the SCO Regulations on the SCO Observer Mission at Presidential and/or Parliamentary Elections and Referendums, observing the principle of political neutrality, objectivity and non-interference in the internal affairs of states and in strict conformity with the national legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Mission worked in accordance with an approved programme of international monitoring of the preparations for and the holding of the elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Mission held a number of official and working meetings with the leadership of the Central Election Commission (CEC), chairpersons, secretaries and members of regional and district election commissions, voters, local official and public observers, the media, and the members of observer missions from international organisations and foreign states.

The host party has created the necessary conditions for the Mission to monitor the preparations for and the conduct of the parliamentary elections, which is evidence of an open and transparent nature of the election process.

The Mission staff scrutinised the CEC efforts to prepare and to hold the regular elections, including at the diplomatic representative offices of the Republic of Kazakhstan abroad.

The Mission's conclusions are based on personal observations conducted by the Mission staff and factual material collected during the preparations for the election and on the election day itself.

3. Legislative framework for electing deputies to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan

The Mission conducted an in-depth analysis of the election legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and concluded that the necessary conditions for all the participants in the election process had been created at the legislative level. The elections were based on the free exercise of the rights of the citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan to elect and be elected.

The legislative framework for the election of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan is based on the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Constitutional Law on Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan, other national laws, as well as other acts and regulations of the Central Election Commission.

The election campaign was held in strict compliance with the constitutional timeframe and was regular. On 21 October 2020, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed an executive order setting the date for the regular elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan for 10 January 2021.

The Mission took note of the innovations designed to improve the election legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the fact that the legislation had been seriously amended since the previous elections in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, a number of additions and amendments were introduced to the Constitutional Law on Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan to make the elections even more democratic and open, as well as to create favourable conditions for the exercise of citizens' voting rights.

4. Use of cutting-edge information and public platforms

The Mission notes the comprehensive use of various information technologies and public platforms providing for transparency, publicity and public control, in particular:

— amid the pandemic the Central Election Commission meetings were held online (since the elections were called) and provided with sign language interpretation. In addition, a Telegram channel and a special section on elections at the Central Election Commission website were operating.

— national social networks and information resources published CEC's news on the election process. The same information was disseminated via messengers;

— an online service for checking data at the location of people's registration was created at the "electronic government" portal during the elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan;

— the websites of local executive authorities and their call centres rendered information services.

5. Candidates to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan consists of 107 deputies, 98 of whom are elected from political parties on a party list basis in a single all-nation electoral constituency based on the universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. Nine deputies to the Mazhilis are elected by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan.

Any citizen of Kazakhstan who has been living on its territory for the last 10 years, has reached the age of 25 and is eligible to vote may become a candidate for deputy.

Party lists of five political parties out of six admitted to elections duly registered at the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan were provided to the Central Election Commission within the established time.

Registration of the party lists provided by the political parties and having in total 312 candidates was completed on 10 December 2020:

— Auyl People's Democratic Patriotic Party — 19 candidates;

— Nur Otan party — 126 candidates;

— ADAL political party — 16 candidates;

— Ak Zhol Democratic Party — 38 candidates;

— People's Party of Kazakhstan — 113 candidates.

The constitutional standard of not less than 30-percent representation of women and young people has been observed in the party lists.

On 11 December 2020, the Council of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan nominated nine candidates (Sauytbek Abdrakhmanov, Avetik Amirkhanyan, Ilyas Bularov, Natalia Dementyeva, Yury Li, Vakil Nabiyev, Shamil Osin, Vladimir Tokhtasunov and Abilfaas Khamedov) to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which were registered by the Central Election Commission on 24 December 2020.

6. Election campaign

According to the electoral law, political parties are guaranteed equal conditions of access to the media for holding the election campaign.

The election campaign was carried out in three main ways:

1) through the media;

2) by holding public pre-election events, as well as personal meetings of the candidates and their proxies with the voters;

3) by issuing and distributing printed, audiovisual and other campaign materials.

We state that the election campaign began from the end of the registration period for the party lists of political parties, and ended at midnight local time on the day preceding the election day — from 6 pm on 10 December 2020 to 12 pm on 9 January 2021.

No election campaigning took place on the actual day of the election and the day preceding it.

At the same time, the media authorised body systematically monitored the uniform coverage of the election campaign.

The election campaign was financed from the electoral funds formed in accordance with the procedure established by law (own funds of political parties and voluntary donations). Information on the receipt of money by the electoral funds was published on the CEC website in accordance with the requirements of the Rules for Opening a Special Temporary Account.

The Mission notes that campaign events as part of the election campaign were carried out in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan, based on the publicity and broad awareness of citizens, and were covered in detail and in various ways in the media.

During the period of its activity, the Mission received no complaints or comments on the work of the media in covering the election campaign.

7. Preparatory work before the election

The Mission notes a high-quality implementation of the calendar plan of action for the preparations and the conduct of the election to the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan. A broad and complex job has been carried out to ensure the electoral rights of the citizens of Kazakhstan.

As many as 17 regional election commissions, 232 territorial (TEC) and 10,060 precinct election commissions (PEC) have been set up. The total number of members of the election commissions is 70,856.

At the same time, the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Kazakhstan took action to arrange voting opportunities for the citizens of Kazakhstan located abroad on the election day. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 66 polling stations have been established at Kazakhstan's foreign missions in 53 foreign countries.

In accordance with the Constitutional Law On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan, the accreditation of observers of foreign states and international organisations was completed within the prescribed period (by 4 January 2021 at 6 pm local time). A total of 398 international observers have been accredited for the election of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The voter list was compiled on the basis of the state citizens database. Voters were put on a list at a specific polling station based on their registered home address.

The citizens of Kazakhstan were also provided with the opportunity of voting at a location other than their registered home address. Members of precinct election commissions were authorised to include voters who present an absentee certificate from their home address and an identification document in the local voter list. At the same time, mechanisms were provided to rule out the possibility of multiple voting. According to the CEC, the number of voters in Kazakhstan is 11.918 million.

Several educational projects have been carried out to improve the quality and efficiency of the work of the electoral process organisers.

In particular, two training and methodology modules have been developed to train members of the election commissions for the election of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan. These two modules were introduced as part of the platform Remote Training and Testing of Election Personnel on the internet resource of the CEC of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

In accordance with the cascade model of the election, training covers all levels of election commissions (2 republican CEC seminars, 4,203 training seminars at the level of TEC and PEC, with the entire coverage of over 70,000 members of various election commissions).

Branches of the Academy of Public Administration under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in all regions of the country have delivered 166 training courses covering 7,493 members of TECs and PECs.

The Remote Training and Testing interactive system available on the CEC website and its mobile version has helped train 99.8 percent of the total number of members of the election commissions at all levels who were awarded electronic certificates.

Members of territorial election commissions have been trained at six field seminars (covering 312 TEC members of all levels), 15 regional seminars via videoconferencing (for 718 TEC members and election organisers). As for other participants in the electoral process, they could benefit from 18 training events held by the CEC together with state bodies of the Republic of Kazakhstan, partner universities and the NGO Academy (1,454 representatives of political parties, public associations, non-profit organisations, observers, representatives of the media, judges, prosecutors and local executive bodies, and young voters).

Methodology manuals and memos have been prepared for members of TECs, PECs, and international observers, as well as the educational film Voting Day for members of the precinct election commissions, information posters, training and

explanatory videos for all the participants in the electoral process, audios, memos and stencils for voters with disabilities, etc.

Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, special sanitary and epidemiological safety measures were taken during the election of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Three resolutions of the Vice Minister of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in agreement with the CEC, were adopted, setting forth recommendations for preventing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus infection at the stage of nomination and registration of candidates, during the pre-election campaign and procedures on the voting day.

On actual election day, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan established additional safety requirements for participants in the electoral process, such as mandatory wearing of disposable medical or protective masks and gloves; the use of hand sanitisers; and keeping a social distance of at least 1.5 — 2 metres from each other; avoiding any handshaking or other forms of direct contact, etc.

8. Access for voters with disabilities

The necessary conditions and opportunities have been created in the Republic of Kazakhstan for the free and equal exercise of the constitutional rights by people with disabilities, including:

— all district election commissions were inspected for their accessibility for physically challenged voters;

— the Accessible Environment interactive card was updated;

— the CEC adopted a resolution on ensuring the election rights of those with disabilities;

— The composition of the CEC working group on ensuring the election rights of people with disabilities was renewed;

— memorandums on cooperation were signed with the public associations of the disabled;

— a videoconference was held with the regional departments of labour, employment and social protection to discuss ensuring conditions for voters with disabilities;

— a meeting of the CEC working group on ensuring the election rights of those with disabilities and a roundtable were held to discuss the involvement of disabled people in the political and social life of the republic, following which a resolution was adopted on ensuring the participation of physically challenged people in the country's political and social life;

— instruction booklets for voters with disabilities were updated based on the CEC activities conducted in 2018 to implement the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

One more innovation was that the broadcasting of the CEC online meetings was complemented with sign language interpreting to improve access to information for disabled voters.

In addition, local executive authorities helped election commissions ensure the exercise of the disabled voters' election rights by increasing the accessibility of polling stations. Some polling stations had sign language interpreters and tactile interpreters.

People with disabilities were able to fill out their ballots independently or using the assistance of persons of their own choice. When voters could not get to polling stations due to health reasons, they were allowed to vote at home based on a written request sent to the election commission.

9. Voting day

The Mission staff was present at the opening of the voting stations and also monitored the rubber stamping of stationary and portable ballot boxes, the polling process and the counting of votes.

To gain the most insight into the election process in Kazakhstan, Mission members oversaw the activities in the city of Nur-Sultan and in other cities and towns of Kazakhstan.

They also monitored the election process at the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the People's Republic of China.

Ahead of and on the actual election day, Mission members visited 118 polling stations.

The Mission notes that the ceremony of voting began with the national anthem of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Each member of the SCO Mission selected his or her polling station and did not encounter any obstacles that could hinder their work.

On the actual election day, the Mission reported the voters' responsible civic behaviour during the voting and the professionalism of district election commission members in view of the epidemiological requirements adopted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection.

Members of election commissions acted impartially during the voting process, provided exhaustive explanations regarding any questions that the public might have had, and showed tact and understanding with regard to voters, local, public and international observers, as well as the media.

The activities of the election commissions can be described as professional, open, transparent and independent.

The district election commissions had the required amount of documents, information and reference materials, observer registration books, lists of procedure, duty charts, evacuation plans and other documents, as well as first aid stations.

The media provided broad coverage of the preparations for and the holding of the elections. Voting at the polling stations proceeded calmly, in accordance with the established procedure and was monitored by the local, public and international observers together with the media.

Members of the SCO Mission did not receive any complaints or criticism during their work in the republic.

10. Main conclusions

The analysis of all the aspects of the election campaign points to the existence of political competition in the country, as well as openness and transparency of the election campaign.

The Mission believes that the elections were held in compliance with the country's legislation and international obligations. It did not notice any violations that would put in question the legitimacy of the elections.

The Mission concludes that the elections were free, fair, reliable, democratic and undoubtedly legitimate.

The Mission points out that the election of the republic's legislature is a vital step along the path towards the further development of Kazakhstan as a democratic country.

The Mission congratulates the people of the Republic of Kazakhstan with the completion of the elections and wishes them every success in their efforts to strengthen the statehood and socioeconomic progress of their country.

The Observer Mission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 10 January 2021