President Nazarbayev's party is expected to do well in the poll
Voters in Kazakhstan go to the polls on Saturday to elect members of the lower house of parliament, the Majlis.
The vote comes two months after President Nursultan Nazarbayev dissolved the chamber and ordered an early election.
The move was prompted by an appeal from MPs, who said a fresh election was needed to implement constitutional reforms approved by parliament in May.
What do the reforms involve?
President Nazarbayev pushed for the reforms after a special state commission drafted a series of proposals designed to democratise Kazakhstan's political system.
The reforms include the reduction of presidential terms from seven to five years starting from 2012, but allow President Nazarbayev, who has been in power since 1989, to run for an unlimited number of terms.
They also seek to increase the number of MPs to 154 and boost parliament's role in appointing a prime minister.
How does Kazakhstan's political system work?
A total of 107 seats are being contested in the election. Of these, 98 will be elected by direct popular vote and distributed among the parties by proportional representation.
The remaining nine MPs will be selected by the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, an umbrella organisation for ethnic minorities designed to promote ethnic harmony.
Majlis MPs are elected for a period of five years. Each MP must be at least 25 years old and should have resided permanently in Kazakhstan for the past 10 years.
Parties must poll at least 7% of the vote to obtain seats in parliament.
Who is leading the race?
Seven of the eight registered parties are contesting the poll.
Analysts expect the ruling coalition, Nur-Otan, to win by a wide margin. Its leader, President Nazarbayev, is seen as having brought about rapid economic growth and preserving ethnic harmony in Kazakhstan.
In 2006, the president merged his Otan (Fatherland) party with his daughter's party, Asar, to form the Nur-Otan coalition. The ruling bloc also includes the Civic Party, associated with mining workers in central Kazakhstan, and the Agrarian Party.
The opposition has criticised the ruling bloc for placing 127 candidates on its party list, despite the fact that just 98 Majlis seats are being contested.
What about the other parties?
The opposition consists of the National Social Democratic Party (NSDP), led by former Prosecutor-General Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, and Ak Zhol, led by the former presidential chief-of-staff and labour minister, Alikhan Baymenov.
Three other parties, Aul, the Party of Patriots and the People's Communist Party distance themselves from both the pro-presidential and opposition forces. They are, however, seen as marginal and may not clear the 7% threshold.
The radical opposition party, Alga, which has not registered for the election, has said it will support the NSDP, as will the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, which is boycotting the vote.
Will the polls be fair?
The president has promised fairness, but Nur-Otan has benefited from extensive and favourable media coverage, as almost all the country's television channels are state-controlled. The few independent channels shy away from criticising the authorities.
Regional observers have reported that "the election campaign is going fairly normally" and have given a positive assessment of the "measures aimed at ensuring equal conditions for all political parties".
But the opposition Ak Zhol party has voiced concerns that "those implementing the electoral laws in some regions are trying to influence the outcome of the poll."
What about international observers?
As Kazakhstan is seeking the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) presidency in 2009, a parliamentary vote judged as free and fair may significantly boost its chances.
The OSCE is sending 436 observers. There will also be observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (most of the ex-Soviet countries).
When will the results be known?
Election results are expected to be published in the official press within 10 days of the polling date.
But in the past they have been announced well before this deadline.
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