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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 11:07 GMT
Kazakh voters in combative mood
By Robert Greenall
BBC News, Almaty

Natalya Malinovskaya and her daughter Elena Urasheva at the polling station
Natalya Malinovskaya and her daughter are voting for the status quo
Kazakhstan's largest city Almaty awoke slowly to election day, with polling stations opening to a typically sleepy Sunday early morning.

A solitary street-sweeper and a few cars easing up and down the city's wide avenues were all that broke the 7am silence.

But within hours there was plenty of activity, ranging from the humdrum to the unashamedly festive.

At the main polling station in the city's central Medeu district, a female singer belted out Kazakh ballads as women in national costume lined the steps to the entrance.

The occasion was the visit of city Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov, former prime minister and close ally of President Nazarbayev.

Elsewhere things were more low-key, but by mid-morning voting was brisk - especially among the elderly - and voters in combative mood.

'Change vs stability'

Shomkhan made no secret of her choice, the main opposition candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai.

"Everything has to change," she told the BBC News website at another city polling station. "Everything has been stolen from us."

There all are sorts of rumours flying around about a revolution, but as you see everything here is calm
Zoya Alina, voter

Mels, a super-fit cycling pensioner, refused to say how he had voted but his opinions were clear. "He wants to go on like Brezhnev until his jaw drops off," said the 69-year-old former psychologist of the president.

"There'll be totalitarianism even worse than the Soviet Union."

By mid-morning, pollsters outside gave Mr Nazarbayev a slight lead over his main rival, though this inner city polling station may not be representative.

"I respect Nazarbayev," says pensioner Natalya Malinovskaya, a member of the dwindling ethnic German minority.

"I lived all my life in Kazakhstan, and now things are calmer and better than ever."

Her daughter, Elena Urasheva, said her mother was so satisfied with life in Kazakhstan that she had stayed when all her relatives left for Germany.

"We have calm in the region, and the best banking system in the former Soviet Union," she said. "I am earning well, thanks to Nazarbayev, and I can support my children and my mother."

Fears of unrest

Inside the polling station, there were moments of tension as a few angry voters slated the new electronic system, which some older or less computer-literate voters are finding complicated.

The names of only three of the five candidates appear on the screen, and voters have to scroll down to find the other two, which happen to be Mr Nazarbayev and Mr Tuyakbai. Most are choosing to stick to paper voting.

A flight attended wears a jacket backing Nazarbayev
Provincial airline Semey Avia is openly supporting Nazarbayev
There were few observers in the first hours of voting, all but one from pro-Nazarbayev parties.

Solitary communist Zoya Alina seemed despondent about her candidate's chances.

"There's been a lot of pressure from the pro-Nazarbayev parties," she said. "There all are sorts of rumours flying around about a revolution, but as you see everything here is calm."

Fear of unrest is common here, with many people worried that the country's stability will be threatened by some kind of opposition revolt like that in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

But on the ground there seems little evidence of anger, and opposition demonstrations and rallies are virtually non-existent.

In the days leading up to the election you could not help but think this was a one-horse race.

Apart from outside polling stations, where all candidates were allowed to put their posters before election day, Nazarbayev flags and portraits are everywhere. Electioneering methods sometimes seem dubious.

"Our company is voting for Nazarbayev," said a representative of tiny provincial airline Semey Avia, unashamedly sporting a chewing gum-shaped badge where the words Wrigleys Juicy Fruit are replaced by the president's slogan "Kazakhstan, only forward!".

The airline's planes have Nazarbayev posters on the wall, and staff have even been wearing jackets in the president's colours.

The president's grip on his country seems firmer than ever.


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