Political Party Un-Development in Kazakhstan: Will “Nur-Otan” Succeed in Destroying all of its Opponents?
Will Minister of Justice Balieva begin registering independent political parties?
Since the dismantling of Dariga Nazarbayeva’s party Asar this past summer, there has been a gradual attempt to consolidate the political representation of all of President Nazarbayev’s political allies under the umbrella of a new enlarged Otan party, recently renamed “Nur-Otan.” At the same time, there seems to be an ongoing attempt to divide and control those opposition parties that might act as a counterbalance to “Nur-Otan.”
As Sergei Duvanov suggests in a recent analytical article, these attempts to divide the opposition appear to be working. While Alga DVK, the Real Ak Zhol, and the new Social Democratic Party all publicly support each other, there appear to be divisions between them. Without going into speculation as to who finances which parties, rumors suggest that these three emergent “wings” of the opposition have different patrons, which are not necessarily all motivated by the same goals. Furthermore, the government of Kazakhstan appears to be involved in its usual games of playing each of these parties against each other. While Bulat Abilov of “Real Ak Zhol” is being squeezed out of the political arena through politically charged court cases, the Government is simultaneously demonstrating tolerance by registering Zharmakhan Tuyakbai’s Social Democrat Party. At the same time, Alga DVK, which continues to operate without registration, is on the margins and could be manipulated against these two other parties.
Outside the opposition, there is yet one other political party “project” moving forward that has been rumored to have important allies with deep pockets who are within the President’s inner circle. This is the Atameken Party, which claims to represent the emergent Kazakhstani middle-class and tries to play a centrist position between the opposition and “Nur-Otan” by promoting reform without directly criticizing the President. While such a party would not appear to be a threat to the President and his inner-circle, it does upset the on-going process of pro-presidential consolidation under “Nur-Otan.” Perhaps for this reason, Atameken has recently encountered a series of road blocks in its attempt to register. While it has collected all of its signatures for registration, it has been blocked from its attempts to publicly discuss its proposed platform on television.
In the meantime, the founder of Atameken, Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov is busy obtaining international support for his party’s registration application, which is scheduled to be answered by the Ministry of Justice on Monday. First, he visited Moscow last week where he was able to get a statement of support from the Russian Union of Right Forces. Now, he is in Washington where he has been meeting with congressional staff, pundits, and governmental entities in an attempt to get their support for his party’s registration. Furthermore, he placed a full-page advertisement in the Washington Times, demonstrating that he indeed has resources behind his bid to be registered. In the advertisement, Dosmukhamedov aligned his party with the long-awaited “political modernization” reforms promised by President Nazarbayev “so that Kazakhstan may become a stronger partner with democratic nations all over the world.” While these moves may not determine the fate of Atameken's registration, they will ensure that groups in the west will take notice if Atameken is not registered, thus further bringing into question Kazakhstan's real intentions for political reform.
Kazakhstan, therefore, once again appears to be at a crossroads in its political development. While the government continues to promise political reforms, it is unclear whether the country is headed towards real multi-party politics or a re-installation of a quasi-democratic one-party system differing from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only in ideology and name. While many have suggested that the appointments of Karim Masimov and Marat Tazhin are signs that the country will head down the path of political reform, a more accurate sign of the country’s intensions will be visible in the ways that it deals with political parties. Will Bulat Abilov be allowed to continue his political activity, or will he be gradually strangled by politically motivated court battles? Will the government quietly use different elements within the opposition to immobilize opposition voices? And, will the government register the Atameken party as a centrist pro-reform party representing the goals of certain allies of the president vis a vis his less reform-minded allies?
In general, the creation of “Nur-Otan” appears to be aimed at replicating President Putin’s success in liquidating multi-party politics in Russia through “United Russia.” Kazakhstan, however, is not Russia. There continues to be an intense intra-elite struggle for political influence in Kazakhstan in anticipation of an eventual change in leadership, and the security organs of Kazakhstan are not as all-encompassing or as brutal as Russia’s omni-present SNB.
Thus, even if “Nur-Otan” prevails through the destruction or silencing of other political voices in Kazakhstan, it will only drive political competition within the country’s elite further underground where it would definitely be less transparent, probably more violent, and likely more divisive. On the other hand, if the government of Kazakhstan was to take steps to allow for all political parties to operate unfettered by judicial machinations and fear, it could raise its profile internationally, leaving images of Borat’s Kazakhstan in the dust. It could also ensure that Nazarbayev would establish a legacy as a reformer even at the same time that he is implicated in the “Kazakh-Gate” case of James Giffen getting underway in New York. The answer to which path the country will take may depend upon what lesson President Nazarbayev takes away from post-Turkmenbasi Turkmenistan and post-Akayev Kyrgyzstan. Will he view the hubris of these now former Central Asian leaders as their lack of toughness or as their inability to establish a political system that would out-live themselves and ensure their place in history?