ASTANA (Kazakhstan): Oil-rich Kazakhstan, the most stable and prosperous of the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, voted on Saturday for a new Parliament in an election closely watched for signs of the country’s commitment to democracy. Previous elections in post-Soviet Kazakhstan have been assessed as being less than free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has led Kazakhstan for 18 years, wants it to win the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. The OSCE fielded more than 400 observers on Saturday, and is to announce its assessment of the vote on Sunday. The country’s stability is important to regional powers Russia and China because of its substantial oil and gas reserves. The United States has also sought greater access to Kazakh energy resources. Voters were choosing members of the lower house of Parliament in an early election that was widely seen a manoeuvre by Mr. Nazarbayev to improve Kazakhstan’s democratic image.— AP