Kazakh parliament sets presidential elections date

Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament on Wednesday set Dec. 4 as the date for presidential elections a vote expected to be closely watched following election-related upheaval in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics.

The Majlis, which is authorized to set election dates in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation, approved the decision 67-0, said Zhiger Baitelesov, a spokesman for the body.

The election is expected to be closely watched, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev seeks a new seven-year term and opposition groups attempt to challenge his increasingly authoritarian rule by fielding a single candidate.

The vote also comes amid increased wariness among regional leaders about the potential for mass upheavals similar to those which led to pro-Western governments in other former Soviet republics, including neighboring Kyrgyzstan.

Nazarbayev, who has overseen strong economic growth in the oil-rich country during his 16-year rule, pledged last week to ensure that the elections would be free and fair.

The conduct of the elections could affect Kazakhstan's bid for chairmanship in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009.

Kazakhstan needs support of the other countries in the 55-member organization to lead the OSCE, but its hopes were dampened when the group's observers criticized last year's parliamentary elections as undemocratic, reports the AP.

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