Monday, April 27, 2015

Quick Post-Election Comments


Yesterday, I visited a polling station, spoke with some voters, and listened to international observers. I spent a good four hours at the Central Election Commission observing the interaction between journalists and the members of the 15-member commission, who represent government officials and professionals from different regions.

During my time here, I met with members of Kussainov’s team, a representative from Nur Otan Party who was also a Bolashak Scholar in the US, and even had the opportunity to ask the President a question!!! (see 12:29 in the embedded video…though my Russian is shaky and I am quite nervous). I also attended the post-election briefing and comments by the U.S. observers.

I have quite a bit to write about. For now, let me share some quick comments on the administration of the election and timing of events.

As already mentioned, the CEC released the number of voters every two hours, with an hour lag time: the results announced at 11:00 AM reflected the number of votes that had been casted as of 10:00 AM. The CEC releases the percentages of total registered voters per region, and then calculates the average percentage of the population that voted by dividing the total number of votes by the total number of registered voters. Do not try to do an average of the percentages, because you will obtain a slightly higher figure. I calculated the number of votes casted after each announcement based on the percentage and regional totals. My calculated average using the aforementioned methodology is in yellow, while the CEC reported national average for voter turnout is in light green. For now, for the purpose of statistical simplicity, I accept the data as is presented. But a detailed investigation of the numbers is certainly warranted. The italicized numbers are figures from the CEC; the rest are my calculations.

Let me point out a few things:

First, voter turnout in Almaty city is 78.28%, the lowest in Kazakhstan. This reflects the fact that there was a major marathon yesterday, but also because Almaty citizens are quite cosmopolitan. I do not mean to suggest that cosmopolitan people do not vote, but rather, many of them have studied in the U.S. or overseas and have more liberal and diverse political perspectives relative to the rest of Kazakhstani society that lead them to voluntarily forego visiting the polls. It is also quite likely that many people registered to vote in Almaty either live overseas or in Astana, and forgot to fill out the equivalent of an “out of state” ballot.

Second, there has always been a high voter turnout in Kazakhstan. During the Soviet Union, citizens visited the polls en masse. Voting was, and is, considered a civic duty. To quote Vadim Socor, a scholar at The Jamestown Foundation and an observer of the election, “deference to authority,” and respect for the state, are parts of Kazakhstan’s political culture.

Third, please do not be disillusioned by the 100%+ increase in votes between 10 AM and 12 PM. This reflects the fact that, in Almaty, for example, 85,713 votes were cast by 10 AM, while 177,497 were cast by 12 PM. Similarly, in South Kazakhstan Oblast, 174,408 votes were cast by 10 AM, and 409,588 were cast by 12 PM. In percentage terms, this is a lot, but when you look at the number of votes, it is really not that outlandish. Later in the day, the percentage increase in votes tapers.

More to come…

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