Under One Big Tent (Yurt) in Kazakhstan: Will the Civic and Agrarian Parties Join the New “Otan” Mega-Party?
Alexander Mashkevich of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation
When the Dariga Nazarbayeva’s Asar party was devoured by the ruling Otan party in Kazakhstan over the summer, there remained questions about the other “pro-presidential” parties in the country. Would they also become part of the new “Mega-Otan,” or would they remain separate political instruments ready to be employed when needed? While many of these parties have proven to be temporary structures that are mostly visible only during election periods, the bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties (AIST) has always been a little different. Various observers suggest that this party, whose constituency is primarily in the north and especially in industrial cities, was created and is financed by the well-known Kazakhstan oligarch Alexander Mashkevich. Mashkevich, who, together with Patokh Chodiyev and Alijan Ibragimov, controls the $5 billion dollar Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation that owns large mining and metal producing industries in Kazakhstan, is ranked 620 in Forbes list of billionaires in the world. He is also the founder of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, and he is thought to control the Kazakh newspaper Express-K. In general, Mr. Mashkevich, who was actually born in Kyrgyzstan, is seen as a close associate to President Nazarbayev, and it is assumed that he has significant political influence in the country.
This past week, it has been reported that the AIST bloc of the Civic and Agrarian parties is likely to join the new “Otan” party. If it does, it will strengthen the already hegemonic party of President Nazarbayev significantly and mark a change in the way that the President and his inner circle control the political landscape. Instead of establishing various “scarecrow” parties to create a loyal multi-party political context that can be manipulated in a variety of ways, Kazakhstan’s ruling elite appears ready to “put all of its eggs in one basket” by establishing a single party that will represent all of its interests. While Preident Putin of Russia has been successful with such a strategy in his creation of “United Russia,” it is unclear whether the same approach can work for Nazarbayev. By placing all of the power groups under one roof (or Shanyrak), can he be assured that they will find a common ground? Given the intense competition within Kazakhstan’s elite, and within the Nazarbayev family, I personally have some doubt. Living in the same Yurt doesn’t always ensure undying loyalty.