The elections to be held on Sunday are unlikely immediately to have an impact on everyday life as parliament rarely crosses this Central Asian nation's authoritarian president.

But the participation of the Asar [All Together] Party created last year by the president's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, in addition to her father's Otan [Fatherland] Party, signals tensions within the first family over the political future of the nation.

"The emergence of Asar is a manifestation of struggles within the elite and the family. I don't think [Dariga Nazarbayeva] wants anyone else to become president before her," a Western political analyst said.

Foreign observers say the future stability of Kazakhstan, an oil-rich nation prized by the West as an alternative to Middle East oil sources, depends on whether a smooth system for handing over power is established.

"The question of transition of power needs to be settled, until that's decided there's always the danger of a power struggle," a Western diplomat said.

Future president 

A Soviet-era veteran, President
Nazarbayev has plenty of critics

The 64-year-old Nazarbayev is a former steelworker who was Kazakhstan's last Soviet-era president and has clung on through a series of elections and referenda, criticised as flawed by the West.

He has said he will stand again at presidential elections in 2006 and has not said whether he sees his daughter, an opera singer and media boss, as a future president.

But observers say the fall of another Soviet-era veteran, Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, in a bloodless coup last year, has spurred Nazarbayeva to present an alternative to her father's party that is more responsive to the concerns of an emerging middle class.

While vowing loyalty to the president, Nazarbayeva has criticised official corruption, including in Otan.

"Our task is to involve the public," Nazarbayeva said in an interview published in this week's Karavan weekly.

"We need to consult with doctors about the future of the health system, with scientists, teachers and professors ... and we need to ask pensioners how they are managing," she said.

Family matters

But the opposition Democratic Choice Party, which complains of efforts by the authorities to silence it, insists that Asar's rise has less to do with reform than with jostling for position by Dariga Nazarbayevas husband Rakhat Aliyev, a former head of the national security committee who fell out with his father-in-law in 2002.

"Asar doesnt have a programme," said Democratic Choices leader Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, who is serving a seven-year prison term on corruption charges that critics, including those in the West, have said were politically motivated.
 
"This is a game. Rakhat and Dariga want Nazarbayev to give them his power," Zhakiyanov said.

Ahead of Sunday's polls a mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has highlighted a number of concerns, including the introduction of a barely tested system of electronic voting for up to 30% of voters and inadequate access to the media by parties other than Otan and Asar.

About 8.5 million of Kazakhstan's 15 million population are eligible to vote, with 67 seats allotted on a constituency basis and 10 on the basis of party lists.