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World - Asia/Pacific

Nazarbayev wins presidential election in Kazakhstan

Nazarbayev
Nazarbayev  
January 11, 1999
Web posted at: 12:59 a.m. EST (0559 GMT)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan (CNN) -- Nearly 90 percent of voters in this ex-Soviet state turned out for the nation's presidential election, which swept veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev to an overwhelming re-election victory.

Nazarbayev won 78.33 percent of the votes, the Central Election Commission said on Monday.

Commission head Zagipa Baliyeva told reporters preliminary figures put Nazarbayev well ahead of his closest rival.

Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin was second with 13.5 percent of the vote in Sunday's ballot. Gani Kasymov, head of the State Customs Committee, won 4.3 percent and Senator Engel Gabbasov had 0.7 percent.

Nazarbayev, 58, who has led the potentially oil-rich Central Asian nation since Soviet times, was criticized by Western human rights groups and the United States over the conduct of the election.

Asked about allegations that the contest had been unfair, Nazarbayev said on Sunday: "I expected this. It is democratic and it is normal. The main question is the will of my people."

The former steelworker, who rose through the ranks of the Soviet Communist Party, was re-elected for a seven-year term.

Nazarbayev has attracted massive Western investment to his nation of 16 million but tolerates little opposition within the country.

He became Kazakh Communist Party leader in 1989 and was first elected president in 1991 when he was unopposed.

The election commission said voting in the current election had gone smoothly and that only a handful of minor infringements had been recorded across the country.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized a decision to shift the poll forward by almost a year, giving opponents little time to prepare, and questioned a court ruling that barred reformist former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin from being a candidate, because of a technicality.

Officials said voter turnout was more than 86 percent.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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