Reconfiguring the Political Landscape of Kazakhstan Once Again: Preparations for new elections or just another “red herring”?
In the last couple of months, the landscape of political parties has once again transformed in Kazakhstan. Various pro-presidential parties have been combined under the umbrella of a new “Otan” mega-party that now includes the recently liquidated “Asar” and “Civic” parties. A new party named “Atamaken,” which is led by Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov and appears to have the backing of important people, has been organized to represent the interests of business people. The opposition has created a social-democratic party led by former presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai. Alikhan Baimenov’s “Ak Zhol” party is now represented in parliament, but it is unclear that it has much constituent support anymore. The “Alga” party (formerly “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan”) remains unregistered and appears to be marginalized in the opposition camp. Finally the “Real Ak Zhol” party, while still strong, is under siege as Bulat Abilov faces serious criminal charges that could make him Kazakhstan’s next political prisoner.
While reconfigurations of this sort always seem to occur in-between elections in Kazakhstan, the latest changes do suggest a different approach to the government’s management of political parties, at least on the pro-presidential side. As I noted earlier this summer, there have been rumors for some time that new parliamentary elections are on the horizon that will involve a system based increasingly on proportional party-list votes. While this rumor has yet to come to fruition, there is certainly a possibility that it may be in the works for the not-too-distant future. After all, the new “Otan” mega-party would certainly be well positioned for such an election.
If this were to happen, which parties would be competitive would largely depend upon various registrations that remain in process. But, if all were registered, one could expect that at least four parties would be able to draw upon significant constituencies:
- “Otan” – the party for those who seek to support the status quo and want to gain positions in government
- “Social Democratic Party” – the party of those in the opposition with left-wing sentiments
- “Atamaken” – the party for those sympathetic with liberal reforms but not wanting to be identified as in the “opposition”
- “Real Ak Zhol” – the party of those in the opposition with right-wing sentiments
Beyond these four, “Alga,” “Ak Zhol,” and the “Communist” parties, if they remain active, would also likely be able to draw upon their base supporters, but they could potentially be more important for the votes they divert from others.
Of course, these reconfigurations may also only be a “red herring” intended to occupy the political space, keep people guessing, and create movement that suggests that Kazakhstan is on the path to democratic reform. Regardless, if the past is any indications, one can expect that there will be more surprises in the configuration of political parties in Kazakhstan before an election is called, and neither the government nor the opposition has shown their full hand as of yet.