Ninety-eight out of ninety-eight.
That's how many seats the suling Nur Otan party won in this weekend's parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, which were held early in a bid to demonstrate the Central Asian nation's democractic progress and to bolster the President Nursultan Nazarbayev's effort to seek the chair of the 56-country Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009.
By any standards, the election clearly demonstrated the opposite. OSCE monitors sent to observe the election found reported instances of multiple voting (for Nur Otan), falsified signatures (by Nur Otan) and votes cast for opposition parties counted that were counted for Nur Otan.
Officially, Nazarbayev's party won 88 per cent of the vote - which by my rough math makes him 18 per cent more autocratic than Vladimir Putin (who most opinion polls say has around 70 per cent support) and 11 per cent shy of Saddam Hussein in his salad days.
When Leonid Kuchma and Edurad Shevardnadze were found committing fraud on a far less audacious scale, the West refused to recognize the results of the votes and supported Ukrainians and Georgians as they overthrew their governments.
Not in Kazakhstan. There's far too much oil at stake here, and while Nazarbayev might not tolerate opposition parties or a free press, he does allow Western oil companies to operate as long as he gets a cut.
The biggest disgrace is that somewhere in all this both the U.S. State Department the OSCE election observer mission were able to find and laud "welcome progress" towards democracy in Kazakhstan. I'm embarrassed that a fellow Canadian, Senator Consiglio Di Nino, was able to say with a straight face that "notwithstanding the concerns contained in the report, the elections continue to move Kazakhstan forward in its evolution toward a democratic country."
Before spouting such nonsense, Sen. Di Nino should have pondered if he was seeing the complete picture, given the recent New York Times report on how Kazakh intelligence - at Nazarbayev's behest - conspired to mislead OSCE monitors during the 2005 presidential elections.
Perhaps the OSCE is indeed fit to have Kazakhstan as its chair.